Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Blonde Venus

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 17 May 2004 at the Brattle Theater (Von Sternberg: Dietrich and Beyond)

I'm not sure quite how often Dietrich played a nightclub entertainer; looking over the entries in the Brattle calendar for this series, it seems like rather a lot. It's easy to see why - she has the long legs, the flawless features, and the ability to project both how completely she owns the room and how small, in reality, that room she owns is. Unfortunately, I can't say she had much of a voice; it's astounding that someone can get cast as a singer so often when she apparently doesn't have much knack for it.

Luckily, her singing is only a side bit in this movie; she plays a young mother who returns to the stage in order to finance her husband's medical treatment abroad. Naturally, of course, a local millionaire (Cary Grant) takes a shine to her, and while she is initially able to use that to her advantage, her husband's return home forces an ugly confrontation. It's 1932, and the word "divorce" apparently cannot even be spoken in a movie yet, so the movie only touches on it obliquely. The issue of a parent snatching a child and fleeing when she fears losing custody is actually treated in a fairly even-handed manner. Generally, the fleeing parent is portrayed unsympathetically unless the other is abusive, but here Sternberg allows both Helen (Dietrich) and Ned (Herbert Marshall) to be more complex, people who made mistakes and are too unforgiving. Cary Grant's character, Nick Townsend, is not much more than a plot device, but does have Grant's charm.

If not for an awkward ending (forced resolutions are nothing new to Hollywood) and Dietrich singing, this might be one of the greatest movies of its genre; it still features quite a bit to like - the scene with the gorilla costume is, deservedly, considered classic. Heartily recommended as cinema history and entertainment.

1 comment:

jon said...

I don't blog... this is the first good sight I could find; anyway alls I wanna say is any movie with the opening credits five minuets in is bound to be a classic e.g. The Big Lebowski, Get Shorty, Starsky and Hutch