As a lover of old Hollywood films, especially those made during the film industry’s golden age – because in my opinion the films were just better as they had a type of mystical Hollywood gloss painted over them – I was excited at the prospect of reviewing a film from 1930. This was in part to see a film from this era that I’d not heard of. It was also because the film was made not long after the transition into the talkies and, of course, it features film legend Marlene Dietrich.
However, like most good things they always seem a bit too good to be true, and that is certainly the case when it comes to this film. It’s being released as part of a Masters of Cinema series in a dual format (DVD & Blu-ray) edition that also features both English and German language versions of the film. The movie depicts the downward spiral of a school teacher (Emil Jannings), whose attempts to catch his students frequenting a local cabaret bar leads to his own enthusiasm for the bar’s main attraction, Lola (Dietrich), which results in both his life and fortune entering a time of turmoil.
Despite being included in the Masters of Cinema collection, unfortunately I couldn’t find anything too magnificent about it. In fact I can think of a few other films from the 1930s, such as Grand Hotel and Of Human Bondage, that would benefit more from a new HD release. They also feature legendary stars such as Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo, who are all on par with Miss Dietrich, if not better.
The film itself is rather boring, bland and has minimal dialogue to begin with; in fact it made me think of a rather bad version of the 1970 hit, Cabaret. It does have some good points when it comes to the use of the camera, mainly due to the panning that was very difficult back then due to static cameras, but apart from that there’s not much else to go on about.
Maybe it’s been seen as worthy to be included in this new collection due to it being the first collaboration between the director Josef Von Sternberg and Dietrich (it was also her ticket to Hollywood), who would make many more films together, but apart from that I can’t see any other reason why it would be included.
One thing I will say is that we get a clear indication of the twilight years of Marlene’s career, as she spent most of them as a cabaret singer touring the world. But apart from that, unless you’re a huge fan of Dietrich or old movies I’d give this a miss.
Reviewer: Lewis Shepherd