Marlene Dietrich Movie Collection, Part 2 Review
The Devil Is A Woman
I left off earlier by saying there was a touch of blasphemy about The Song Of Songs, one that the devil himself would be proud of. Which brings us to the fifth film in this set, The Devil Is A Woman, an enormously enjoyable film that revels in Dietrich's wickedness, here playing a woman who not only does unforgivable things but is also unforgiving in her deviousness. And all the while looking fabulous. The film opens at a carnival in southern Spain, in which Antonio Galvan (Cesar Romero) spies the beautiful Concha Perez (Dietrich) and follows her back to her mansion, leaving a note for her at the gate of her estate. He confides in his friend Don Pasqual (Lionel Atwill) of his love for Perez but, in a terribly grave voice, he warns Galvan to leave her alone. Pasqual cuts a dismal figure as he tells Galvan of his meetings with Perez, every time watching her run out on him and leaving him humiliated whilst unable to overcome his feelings for her. As he tells Galvan, Pasqual would marry Perez in an instant but he wants nothing from him but his money. Galvan, though warned, cannot leave Perez alone and calls on her later that day but finds that Pasqual has written her a note, asking that she meet him again. The two men, once great friends, fall out and challenge to another to a duel, agreeing to meet the next morning for a duel to the death with whoever is left standing being the one to take the hand of Concha Perez.
There are two ways to look at The Devil is a Woman - one is as a straight drama, a tragedy even, but in which Dietrich's performance is wholly out of place, whilst the other is a riotously entertaining melodrama wherein she pitches her role perfectly - beautiful, charming but devilishly wicked. Although anyone actually paying attention to the plot can see that Don Pasqual is a fool for his persisting in his attempts at romancing her, so charming and lusty is she that we can well understand how he is unable to resist her. Her ability to roll a cigarette appears to be shorthand for all manner of sexual daring whilst her promising of a kiss may, of course, only be a kiss but in the manner in which she first throws herself at Don Pasqual, it suggests much, much more. Dietrich looks no more Spanish than I but she twirls her skirt, sings and dances convincingly and is impossibly attractive, so much so that the idea of two men duelling over her isn't an entirely ridiculous idea.
That The Devil is a Woman is here at all is something of a surprise given that, for a long time, it was considered lost. Soon after its release, the Spanish government objected to its portrayal of the Spanish people and government, which led to Paramount pulling it from the theatres and destroying prints of the movie. It wasn't until twenty-four years after this that Dietrich offered the organisers of a Sternberg retrospective a print of the film from her personal collection, which, after all this time, is likely to be the source of his release of the film. Scripted by John Dos Passos, though its nothing like his classic novel USA, and looking terrific thanks to the direction of Josef von Sternberg, The Devil is a Woman is the most enjoyable film in the set and it's a pleasure to have it included here.
Having fallen in love with one another in Morocco, Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper return in this enjoyable romantic adventure in which she plays a glamourous jewel thief against his matter-of-fact car mechanic, the elegant Madeleine de Beaupre to his brusque Tom Bradley. Desire opens with Madeleine stealing a valuable string of pearls away from jeweler Aristide Duval (Ernest Cossart) by pretending to be the wife of one of his wealthy clients. But not long after Madeleine leaves, Duval realises he's been conned, looking around helplessly for the 2.2million Francs that the pearls are worth as Madeleine heads for the Spanish border towards freedom and the villa of her partner, Carlos Margoli (John Halliday).
Close to that border, Madeleine runs into mechanic Bradley when the horn on her car sticks. Given that she was sounding it at him at the time, Bradley smiles when she asks him to help. Madeleine sees Bradley once again, this time at the customs post on the border but fearing that the string of pearls will be found in her case, she slips them into Bradley's pocket but as she leaves having nothing to declare, she looks behind her as the customs officers pops smuggled cigarettes out of Bradley's case. Happy with issuing a fine of 100 pesos, the customs officers let Bradley through but he doesn't get far before Madeleine, looking to recover the stolen pearls, flirts with him, lets her hand linger near his jacket pocket and, eventually, steals his car! But Madeleine and Bradley's paths are destined to cross and so they do, this time realising that they might just have fallen in love with one another, with only a stolen necklace coming between them.
As stylish as later romantic crime capers such as To Catch A Thief, Desire sees Gary Cooper playing up his, "Aw, shucks!" character to good effect, giving ample space for Dietrich to take the starring role with a mix of glamour, sensuality and wickedness, all of which she handles with a great deal of fun. However, that's not to say it's a particularly great film - it's far too predictable for that - but it is an enjoyable one and though the thought of Dietrich and Cooper falling in love with one another is never made an unlikely one, the pleasure in the film isn't the not knowing the destination but, rather like the high-speed drive to the Spanish border, the journey there. Cooper and Dietrich work well with one another, recapturing the chemistry they had in Morocco but with a much lighter touch, with director Frank Borzage only introducing a touch of danger late in the film, when Dietrich's partner interrupts a dinner party with a pistol but it's never suggested that he'll shoot the thing. And indeed he doesn't, Cooper using his muscle to wrest the weapon from Margoli with such flair that it lands in a serving dish. "Disarm that fricassee!", he calls as he hails the butler. In the end, one doesn't particularly care if the necklace is returned or not, although we do know that it will be, as the spark between Cooper and Dietrich is quite enough. This time, though, they end up together, which, though it's taken them two films and a hop across the Mediterranean to get there, seems entirely fitting.
When Marlene Dietrich says Bijou, it sounds so perfect that it's a wonder it took until 1940 for her to be cast as such. When Bijou Blanche kicks up a riot in a cabaret bar in the South Seas and is called to court to be deported once again - this would appear to be something of a familiar turn of events for Bijou - Seven Sinners gets off to a roaring start. Aboard the ship taking her out of port, the doctor swoons when Bijou sweeps into his clinic, offering to strip to the waist whilst the rest of the crew clamour at the door. Unfortunately, their time together is destined to be short as Bijou disembarks at their next port of call, a small island that plays host to the Seven Sinners Cafe, a place where she's already been deported from but which, under the governance of a new arrival, permits her to stay. Happily for Bijou, the US Navy are in town and it's not long before sailors are swinging from the rafters of the Seven Sinners Cafe and Lieutenant Dan Brent (John Wayne) is seen on her arm. But can Bijou, an old hand at being deported, stay on the island long enough for their relationship to bloom or will the courts come calling once again?
To see Gary Cooper and Marlene Dietrich together is one thing, John Wayne and Dietrich is quite another. It may be that Cooper tends to imply that he has had some regrets in his life - after all, in Morocco, his character joins the French Foreign Legion to forget - whereas Wayne, with the odd exception, does not. And so, where the relationship between Cooper and Dietrich is a troubled one in Morocco, that of Wayne and Dietrich is a full-blooded, roaring love affair that has a fair mix of laughs, tears and by the thrown knives of local gangster Antro (Oscar Homolka), murder. Aided by magician/pickpocket Sasha (Mischa Auer) and bodyguard Patrick (Broderick Crawford), who reserves the use of his right fist in looking out for Dietrich, the foursome make a formidable team, doing their very best to make something of Seven Sinners but struggling to leave it looking anything other a rollicking romantic comedy. Actually, all one really remembers of Seven Sinners are these four actors who spit out each line with relish, particularly Dietrich who has a tendency to interrupt the others in her successful bid to keep the lead. One ought not to be surprised to learn that she's entirely successful in that regard but Wayne would learn from the experience, keeping it in mind for The Quiet Man, a film that Seven Sinners bears some similarity to, albeit with the much more wholesome figure of Maureen O'Hara. Marlene Dietrich would teach our Maureen a thing or two about men, one feels.
The Flame Of New Orleans
The Flame Of New Orleans casts Dietrich as Claire Ledeux, a character not dissimilar to Concha Perez but this time as one who's outraged polite European society by her dallying with the affections of foolish men. As the film opens, she's newly arrived in New Orleans in 1841 and is set on marrying a rich man. Seated at the opera, she faints, attracting the attentions of the wealthy Charles Giraud (Roland Young), who proposes soon after. But Ledeux finds that roguishly handsome ship's captain Robert Latour (Bruce Cabot) is also attracted to her and though she rebuffs his advances, telling him, "Remain a sailor, sailor!", she remains drawn to the life of adventure that he promises. However, her posing as a woman of society is threatened with the arrival of Zoltov (Mischa Auer) who remembered Ledeux from St Petersburg, even to her habit of fainting to extract herself from uncomfortable situations. As he talks about his memory of her to an increasingly large audience, Ledoux must convince Giraud that Zoltov is actually talking about her cousin, who Ledeux must also portray. But this sudden appearance of Ledeux's notorious cousin is a problem for Giraud, who offers Latour $150 to get her out of New Orleans before his wedding to Ledeux, something that, given he's not entirely convinced by the deception, he's more than happy to do.
And so ends up this second part of three reviews of The Marlene Dietrich Collection. Once again, come back later for three of Dietrich's wartime movies, Pittsburgh, Follow The Boys, Golden Earrings and A Foreign Affair as well as a look at the quality of the discs in this set.