Multiple-Language Version Film Collectors Guide: The Blue Angel (1930)

by Brent Reid
  • Master director Josef von Sternberg’s iconic early work
  • It launched Marlene Dietrich to international stardom
  • They became lovers and maintained lifelong friendship
  • Also provided stage and screen legend’s signature song
  • Instant hit and lasting standard, “Falling in Love Again”
  • Last hurrah for renowned silent era star, Emil Jannings
  • One of the best known multiple-language version films
  • It was shot simultaneously in both English and German
  • Latter was more favourably received and still most seen
  • Several remakes have trailed unsuccessfully in its wake
  • Pros and cons of every home video release worldwide
  • The Blu-ray Angel: Lola looks her best on HD twofers
The Blue Angel aka Der blaue Engel with Marlene Dietrich and Emil Jannings (1930, dir Josef von Sternberg) US poster

US poster (alt)


Contents


Production

 German: 1930, 1963, 2012 | clips | Mark Kermode | TCM | Dietrich/Sternberg, JvS 1967, 1968 | songs

A priggish professor follows his pupils to the Blue Angel, the local den of iniquity, to put a stop to the fuss over a singer named Lola. But when he hears this siren’s song, the professor alters the course of his life to follow her. Marlene Dietrich’s Lola is pure fire and ice as she leads the professor to shame and ruin. This portrayal catapulted Miss Dietrich to international stardom. – US CMC/RSVP VHS


“The success of this film will be found in the naked thighs of Miss Dietrich!” – Heinrich Mann, author of the The Blue Angel’s source novel, making a prophetic exclamation to Jannings during filming, when the star thought he’d put in a good performance. The novel, Professor Unrat, oder Das Ende eines Tyrannen (Professor Rubbish, or The End of a Tyrant; 1905), was first published in English as Small Town Tyrant but expectedly retitled after the film everywhere, including Italy, France, Spain and Germany. Unfortunately, there are no extant copies of the original German screenplay, just transcriptions from the film itself, one of which was published:

One of the most well known and commercially successful MLVs of all, The Blue Angel is replete with iconic imagery, dialogue and songs. Marlene Dietrich’s first international starring role and Emil Jannings’ last, this eternal tale of one man’s love and lust dragging him into a downward spiral was shot in original German (Der blaue Engel) and an English version.

Reviews: Variety German/English | The Guardian

Emil Jannings and Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel aka Der blaue Engel (1930, dir Josef von Sternberg)

Caught in a tender trap: a willing lamb to the slaughter…


Immanuel Rath (Emil Jannings) is a professor of English literature at an all-boys high school. He is respected and feared by his students. He is punctual and a man of habit. He is emotionally and sexually repressed. One day he finds that his students are fascinated with Lola Fröhlich (Marlene Dietrich), a cabaret singer at the Blue Angel nightclub. He decides to pay the club a visit, hoping to catch his pupils there. As he enters, “Lola Lola,” wearing a top hat, garter belt [suspenders] and corset, hits the stage singing “Ich bin die fesche Lola” (I am the pretty Lola) and Professor Rath begins his one-way descent into what author Heinrich Mann described as “the terror of a fate lived to its bitter end.”

In 1927, Emil Jannings won the Best Actor Academy Award for his work in two American films: The Way of All Flesh and The Last Command, the latter directed by Josef von Sternberg. Shortly after the award ceremony, Jannings packed and returned to Germany. His reason was the talkie revolution; he knew that American audiences would not accept his thick accent. Upon his return to the UFA studios, it was decided that his first new German-language film would be a talkie. Jannings felt that only one man could direct him in this unknown territory: Josef von Sternberg. Von Sternberg recalled he was “touched by this request from a proud and capable actor whom I had told in no uncertain terms that I considered him a horrible affliction and a hazard to any aesthetic purpose, and, this being my nature, I accepted.”

The Blue Angel aka El ángel azul with Marlene Dietrich and Emil Jannings (1930, dir Josef von Sternberg) Spanish poster

“A cabaret artist leads an old professor to the greatest vexation and even death.” Spanish poster

When von Sternberg arrived in Berlin, the film’s subject was still undetermined. Jannings first suggested a film biography of the mad monk Rasputin. When von Sternberg rejected that, Jannings then suggested the 1905 novel Professor Unrat, oder Das Ende eines Tyrannen (Professor Rubbish, or The End of a Tyrant) by Heinrich Mann. The novel told the story of a schoolmaster who loses his position when he marries a cabaret singer. He gets even by becoming a politician and gambler. Von Sternberg liked the first part of the novel but decided to change the ending as well as the title to Der Blaue Engel (The Blue Angel), which sounded more exotic; author Mann had no problem with the changes.

Now all von Sternberg had to do was cast the role of the vamp Lola. Originally he wanted Brigitte Helm, the young German actress who starred as Maria in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Mann countered with Trude Hesterberg, a well known Berlin entertainer who was also a close personal friend. Von Sternberg felt she was too obscure and Hesterberg withdrew herself from consideration. UFA suggested Lucie Mannheim, who was later to appear in Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, but von Sternberg rejected her too. He recalled that “Berlin was bursting at the seams with actresses padded with rolling fat, but none seemed to have rolled it where it might have been viewed favorably.”

Emil Jannings and Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel aka Der blaue Engel (1930, dir Josef von Sternberg)

Watch out, boy, she’ll chew you up.

Then, he discovered Marlene Dietrich. Dietrich began by playing bit parts in German films in 1919. By 1929, she had established herself as a popular leading lady of the German stage and screen, sometimes compared to Greta Garbo and Elisabeth Bergner. One night, von Sternberg attended a performance of Zwie Krawatten. “Never before had I met so beautiful a woman” he recounted; the film’s producer, Erich Pommer, agreed and production soon began.

The German-language version debuted on April 1, 1930; Dietrich set sail for America and a Paramount contract that very night. The English language version was not released in the United States until after her American film debut, Morocco, co-starring Gary Cooper. Slimmed down from her plump Fräulein Berlin days, Paramount positioned her as a glamorous mystery woman—their answer to MGM’s Greta Garbo. The studio’s publicity machine, von Sternberg’s sensuous lighting and Dietrich’s legs where a combination that couldn’t be beat. The public was mesmerized by the Dietrich mystique and she soon became a screen icon. – US Image LaserDisc (1992)

SD 23 listing, more vids , Fb | DTiG 15 listing, vid, Fb

Zwei Krawatten (Two Neckties, 1929), a cabaret revue by Georg Kaiser with music by Mischa Spoliansky, originally starred Dietrich opposite Hans Albers. It was also first filmed in 1930, with a subsequent 1961 TV adaptation and 1977 staged broadcast (FdDDR). Soundtrack:


Siren songs

Both the originals and re-recorded versions of Dietrich’s four show-stopping numbers in The Blue Angel have been collected on numerous compilations, the best of which are:

Unlike those above, the most comprehensive unofficial releases may not always have the best sound quality from original masters but do provide a fascinatingly broad overview of the entire Weimar era:


Original transfers

The Blue Angel aka Der blaue Engel (1930, dir. Josef von Sternberg) US 2001 re-release poster

US 2001 limited theatrical re-release poster; Kino Lorber’s 2-DVD set followed a few months later.

Both MLVs

The original transfers of both MLVs are from photochemical restorations; the German is based on its original negative, rescued from the Nazis who attempted to destroy all evidence of their homeland’s formerly “impure” and “decadent” past. But the much-in-demand film saw it badly overprinted through the years; consequently it’s fairly worn and not in as good shape here as the better preserved (and less popular) English MLV.

  • Audio commentary by Werner Sudendorf
  • Comparison of the two versions (3:18)
  • Dietrich’s screen test (1929, 3:38)
  • Dietrich interview (1971, 1:26)
  • An Evening with Dietrich (1972) alternate takes
    • “Falling in Love Again” (3:27)
    • “You’re the Cream in My Coffee” (3:31)
    • “Lola” (2:14)
  • 1930 trailer (3:42)
  • 1963 re-release trailer (3:01)
  • Image galleries
  • Cast and crew biographies

The two-disc sets contain substantially the same extras specially prepared for them, providing invaluable context, and some also have booklets. It’s worth noting that Sudendorf’s audio commentary for the German version is an MLV too, as it’s in English on the US and UK DVDs, and in German on all the other releases apart from Australia. Sudendorf was the longtime curator of the Deutsche Kinematek’s extensive Marlene Dietrich Collection and he’s written a number of authorised books and articles on the star.

The Australian set substitutes the others’ commentary for one by Adrian Martin and adds a made-for-TV featurette, “Hollywood Remembers: Marlene Dietrich” (1999, 25:04). Note that as per their usual cost-cutting practise with PAL-sourced content, Kino’s DVDs have slightly inferior PAL-NTSC transfers; both their MLVs are also oddly green-tinged rather than monochrome.

The Blue Angel aka L'Ange bleu with Marlene Dietrich and Emil Jannings (1930, dir Josef von Sternberg) French double grande poster by Rene Peron (alt)

French double grande poster by Rene Peron (alt); Italian 1948 poster by Aldo De Amicis

German MLVs

English MLV

All the single-MLV releases are barebones, bar those marked* with a smattering of extras from the two-film releases, and** with exclusive featurettes. The Transit box set has one on every film, all with English subtitles, The Blue Angel’s being “Mythos und Marlene” (33min).


Remastered transfers

The Blue Angel aka L'Ange bleu with Marlene Dietrich and Emil Jannings (1930, dir Josef von Sternberg) French 1966 re-release grande poster by Michel Landi

French 1966 re-release grande poster by Michel Landi (alt), reworked by Eureka/Masters of Cinema for their BD/2-DVD combo sleeve.

Both MLVs

German MLV

In 2012, both versions were remastered in 2k and given a digital clean-up, bringing about significant improvements in all expected areas: detail, grain, stability, audio fidelity, etc; in short, these are the versions to get. The previous extras have been carried over with a few exceptions: the UK substitutes Sudendorf’s commentary for a new one by Tony Rayns and has an added video essay by Tag Gallagher (30:01). Instead, Sudendorf conveys much of his info in an essay for the UK’s chunky 48-page booklet alongside a vintage tract by Josef von Sternberg.

Meanwhile, Kino in the US pulled a fast one on their loyal customers: to artificially boost sales, they released the more desirable German MLV first on a single barebones BD, the so-called “Authorized Edition”, even dropping its commentary. Then the following year, they added a second BD with the English MLV and remainder of the extras, and called it the “Ultimate Edition”, except it’s the least of the new batch as it’s still missing the commentary and the SD extras are still inferior PAL-NTSC transfers. A total rip-off, then: all extras and both films – being B&W, Academy ratio (black bars mean no bytes) and with mono audio – easily fit on a single BD, as with the other releases.


The Blue Angel aka Der blaue Engel with Marlene Dietrich and Emil Jannings (1930, dir Josef von Sternberg) German 1952 re-release poster by Heinz Bonne

German 1952 re-release poster by Heinz Bonne; 1963 style one and two (alt) by Dorothea Fischer-Nosbisch

The film has been copyrighted worldwide since its first release, except in the US where it lapsed into the public domain from the end of 1958 when its copyright wasn’t renewed at the end of the initial 28-year term. However, it was restored at the beginning of 1996 and it’s currently due to re-enter the US public domain for good at the end of 2025: 95 years after its original release. In the rest of the world, its copyright expires at the end of 2047: co-writer Carl Zuckmayer’s 1977 death + 70 years.

As in so many other cases, copyright “protection” hasn’t stopped the bootleggers, who falsely claim the film’s up for grabs. Here’s a sampling of illicit discs; their proliferation in Italy means the country’s still hasn’t seen a single legit, good quality release. Particularly egregious is the DNA DVD, cropped to faux widescreen. Blech. Also spare a thought for Mexico’s poor Zima, a legit label who unwittingly “licensed” many of their transfers from notorious French scammers Films sans Frontières, themselves having also squatted out a pair of domestic discs.

Incidentally, Italy’s produced the only alternate audio tracks I’m aware of, for the German MLV, which date from 1931 and 1950. The first is almost certainly a voiceover as it’s credited to only one person, Gero Zambuto (father of Mauro Zambuto, the Italian voice of Stan Laurel), and its survival status is unknown. The latter track is naturally featured on all Italian boots and the Stormovie even has it anachronistically – and doubtless very poorly – remixed into 5.1 surround.


Angels never die: Legacy

The Blue Angel: Cinema Then, Cinema Now, The World and Its Image, Crumbling Identities: An Analysis

The Blue Angel has spawned several remakes, most notable of which is the first, from 1959, directed by Edward Dmytryk and starring Curd Jürgens and May Britt, who filled the vampish role originally earmarked for Marilyn Monroe. Long unavailable, it drew poor to middling reviews and Dietrich herself thought it “a very bad film”, as she curtly told a truly obnoxious interviewer. She also supported von Sternberg when he sued Paramount over the film, claiming he had the remake rights; the case was settled out of court. To commemorate the Weimar Republic’s 2019 centenary, their original had a UK and Ireland theatrical re-release and it was screened during the BFI’s Beyond Your Wildest Dreams: Weimar Cinema 1919-1933 season.


If you liked this, you’ll love:

See DVDCompare for more in-depth disc details and post a comment below if you’ve any questions or suggestions.

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