REVIEW: The Scarlet Empress [1934]

I’m taking lessons as fast as I can. Empress Elizabeth Petrovna (Louise Dresser) wanted to make sure Russia had a strong leader and in so doing ensured it wouldn’t be her bloodline taking up the mantle. Not the way Josef von Sternberg‘s The Scarlet Empress tells it, as adapted from Catherine II’s diaries by Eleanor McGeary and Manuel Komroff. It is she who chooses Princess Sophia Frederica of Prussia (Marlene Dietrich) to marry her nephew (Sam Jaffe‘s Grand Duke Peter) and provide a male heir she could then raise in…

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REVIEW: Shanghai Express [1932]

You’re in China now. Where time and life have no value. The three-day train ride from Peking to Shanghai has commenced and all anyone’s talking about is the rumor that the infamous Shanghai Lily (Marlene Dietrich) is on-board. Most of the passengers, like respectable boarding house owner Mrs. Haggerty (Louise Closser Hale) and Christian missionary Mr. Carmichael (Lawrence Grant), are scandalized by the prospect, but others, like the genial Mr. Chang (Warner Oland), are curious about their prospects where it comes to getting to know her better (wink). Captain Donald…

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REVIEW: Dishonored [1931]

To love and excitement. Marie Kolverer (Marlene Dietrich) never asked to be a spy. The widow was merely mentioning to a police officer standing guard at the latest death-by-gas-asphyxiation suicide that she wouldn’t be following in the victim’s footsteps like he remarks most women will. She tells him that she’s not afraid of life before clarifying that she’s not afraid of death either. The sentiments catch the ears of the Austrian Secret Service Chief (Gustav von Seyffertitz) as those of someone with a strong enough constitution to recruit for an…

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REVIEW: Morocco [1930]

I changed my mind. Good luck! It’s said that Marlene Dietrich put a copy of Benno Vigny‘s “Amy Jolly” into director Josef von Sternberg‘s pocket before he set sail for America. Their German collaboration The Blue Angel had yet to be released, but the consensus that it would prove a hit was enough to land him in Hollywood with keen prospects and potential money. He then leveraged both to give birth to Morocco with Jules Furthman adapting the script and the studio bringing Dietrich over to star. One soon-to-be hit…

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REVIEW: Der blaue Engel [The Blue Angel] [1930]

“Beware of blondes. They’re special, every one.” It was interesting to discover Josef von Sternberg‘s career started in Hollywood, directing many late-silent era pictures. I assumed the Austrian-born auteur began in Europe because he was the man behind the camera for Germany’s first feature-length talkie, Der blaue Engel [The Blue Angel]. But his helming it was actually at the behest of German star Emil Jannings who—despite reportedly clashing on set of their previous film together, The Last Command, where he won the Oscar for Best Actor—wanted Sternberg to guide him…

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REVIEW: Touch of Evil [1958]

“Your future’s all used up” Back in Hollywood a decade after his The Lady from Shanghai debacle, Orson Welles‘ Touch of Evil almost met the same fate. He presented his rough cut on time yet Universal brought in Harry Keller to reshoot scenes—replacements and brand new—and truncated it to 93-minutes nonetheless. While the studio destroyed any unused footage, they did let Welles take a gander before its bow. Their cut was ultimately released, but seeing it early allowed Welles the opportunity to write a 58-page memo outlying its problems. He…

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