best film:   Touch of Evil but it is not as black and white as it first looks. Josef von Sternberg is not as well regarded as Orson Welles and rightly so- but he is not far off and Marlene Dietrich is the star of von Sternberg’s best films including Morocco and Blue Angel. Josef von Sternberg is a big part of the history of film style-even if, again, his work cannot quite touch the muscular, eye-popping genius on display in Touch of Evil. Dietrich is certainly not the star of Touch of Evil– but she is pitch perfect in her scenes- and of course is gifted the big moment in the finale- the chef’s kiss of a final line of dialogue. This is still an important part of her resume.


“He was some kind of a man– what does it matter what you say about people” to Henry Mancini’s score in Welles’ Touch of Evil


best performance:    Morocco and The Blue Angel are right there as number one and two. In Morocco she plays both the seducer at first- and then the tragic victim left Gary Cooper’s wake. She is just asked to do a bit more here than she is in The Blue Angel so Morocco gets the edge.


Dietrich’s 1930- there may not be a better single year from any actor when you take into account her work in both Morocco (here) and The Blue Angel.


Dietrich was the revelation in 1930. The Blue Angel is her first pairing with von Sternberg and their auteur/muse coupling (Morocco is also 1930). Dietrich plays Lola Lola. She is the night club singer you’d throw it all away for (and Jannings’ Rath does).


stylistic innovations/traits:   Dietrich’s style is her screen presence. She is not a chameleon and her range (though she could do comedy) will not bowl anyone over. Dietrich is closer to Marilyn Monroe or John Wayne in that she dominates the screen. Take scenes of Dietrich singing as an example- she is not a skilled vocalist, but she demands the viewer’s eyes- and it is not always her physical attractiveness either- that may be A factor- but it is not THE factor.


directors worked with:  Josef von Sternberg (5) The collaborations between Josef von Sternberg and Dietrich are crucial clearly. She also worked with Billy Wilder (2) twice and then Orson Welles and Fritz Lang once a piece.


The von Sternberg and Dietrich films from 1930 to 1934 are an essential part of the early sound era in cinema- this here from The Scarlet Empress.



top five performances:

  1. Morocco
  2. The Blue Angel
  3. The Scarlet Empress
  4. Touch of Evil
  5. Shanghai Express




archiveable films

1930- Morocco
1930- The Blue Angel
1932- Blonde Venus
1932- Shanghai Express
1934- The Scarlet Empress
1939- Destry Rides Again
1948- A Foreign Affair
1952- Rancho Notorious
1956- Around the World in 80 Days
1957- Witness for the Prosecution
1958- Touch of Evil
1961- Judgement at Nuremberg