Marlene Dietrich & Josef von Sternberg at Paramount (1930-1935) | Six stunning classics from Hollywood’s Golden Age

The collaboration between filmmaker Josef von Sternberg and actress Marlene Dietrich is one of the most enduring in all Hollywood cinema.

Tasked by Paramount bosses to find ‘the next big thing’, director von Sternberg lighted upon German silent star Dietrich and brought her to Hollywood. Successfully transitioning from the silent to the sound era, together they crafted a series of remarkable features that expressed a previously hitherto unbridled ecstasy in the process of filmmaking itself – Morocco (1930), Dishonored (1931), Shanghai Express (1932), Blonde Venus (1932), The Scarlet Empress (1934), and The Devil Is a Woman (1935).

Marked by striking cinematography, beautiful design and elaborate camerawork these vibrantly sensuous films redefined cinema of the time, while Dietrich’s sexually ambiguous on-screen personas caused a sensation and turned her from actor to superstar and icon.

Lavish, lascivious and wildly eccentric, the films Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich made for Paramount Pictures in the 1930s provide a unique testimony to Hollywood’s Golden Age.

The six films that von Sternberg made with Dietrich in Hollywood are presented here in new restorations on Blu-ray for the very first time in the UK. Containing a wealth of new and archival extras – including new appreciations, interviews, audio commentaries, rare films, outtakes and deleted audio, documentaries… and more!

Indicator/Powerhouse Film’s Limited Blu-ray Edition Box Set (6,000 units), which includes a 120-page collector’s book, is out on 26 August 2019

Morocco (1930)
Marlene Dietrich’s first American film cast her as the singer and adventuress Amy Jolly, ensnaring then being ensnared by legionnaire Gary Cooper. Brilliantly shot by Lee Garmes, whose work was nominated for an Oscar, Morocco is a film of shadows and shimmering heat, painstakingly directed for maximum effect. Marlene never looked more alluring, and sings three songs, including When Love Dies, in which she plants a kiss on a female club patron while dressed in a man’s top hat, white tie and tails. A trailblazing box-office success.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• 2K restoration
• Original mono audio
Morocco audio commentary with Daughters of Darkness’ Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger
• Introduction by Nicholas von Sternberg, son of Josef von Sternberg
The Art of Josef von Sternberg (2019): Nicholas von Sternbergon his father’s works in painting and sculpture
The Legionnaire and the Lady (1936): Lux Radio Theatre adaptation featuring Dietrich and Clark Gable
• Image gallery

Dishonored (1931)
This spy film, based loosely on the Mata Hari story, is probably the least distinguished of Dietrich and von Sternberg’s collaborations, but its camp plot and extravagant central performance along with the director’s impressive visual style (look out for his trademark and ever-present veils, nets, smoke and fog between actors and the camera) mark it down as an offbeat gem. Victor McLaglen is badly miscast as Dietrich’s lover (and his constant teeth gritting is really annoying), but Dietrich (as the alluring agent X-27, who breaks codes with piano music) is the whole picture, and she looks truly radiant, even in her first ever non-glamorous scenes where she plays a peasant girl with her hair scraped back and totally devoid of make-up.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• 4K restoration
Original mono audio
• Introduction by Nicholas von Sternberg, son of Josef von Sternberg
Josef von Sternberg, a Retrospective (1969): feature-length television documentary by the acclaimed Belgian director Harry Kümel
I Did Why He Told Me To Do: New video essay by film historian Tag Gallagher on the Hollywood collaborations of Dietrich and von Sternberg
• Image gallery

Shanghai Express (1932)
‘It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily,’ drawls Marlene Dietrich in one of cinema’s classic lines, and so the scene is set for an atmospheric adventure that’s like Grand Hotel on rails. Lee Garmes’ amazing photography won an Oscar and Dietrich’s sultry siren is enough to make even army doctor Clive Brook’s stiff upper lip quiver and put Warner Oland’s fiendish rebel leader Henry Chang off his chow mein. My other favourite line is: ‘I wouldn’t trust you from here to the door’.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• 4K restoration
Original mono audio
• Introduction by Nicholas von Sternberg
• Audio commentary with critic and film historian David Thompson
Trouble in Hollywood: Interview with Jasper Sharp, writer and filmmaker, on the life and career of Anna May Wong
• Image gallery

Blonde Venus (1932)
Shimmeringly photographed by Bert Glennon, Dietrich plays a German café singer whose search for money to pay for her husband’s medical bills leads her into adultery in this this soapy and rather camp melodrama. One particularly memorable scene has Dietrich attired in a gorilla suit to sing Hot Voodoo, while another sees her drag up in a white tuxedo to sing I Couldn’t Be Annoyed. Herbert Marshall (The Fly) plays her estranged chemist husband, while Cary Grant is the millionaire third man who turns out to have a real heart of gold, and little Dickie Moore (Our Gang) plays her naive, but adorable son.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• 4K restoration
Original mono audio
• Introduction by Nicholas von Sternberg
• Audio commentary with film and arts critic Adrian Martin
Dietrich, A Queer Icon: Interview with So Mayer, author of Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema, on the queer iconography and legacy of Dietrich and von Sternberg’s films
• Image gallery

The Scarlet Empress (1934)
Dietrich scorches the screen as the 18th-century Empress of Russia, Catherine the Great in this dazzling display of style. Costume, spectacle and camerawork is the order of the day here, with Bert Glennon excelling in this last department. Watch out for Sam Jaffe, who is quite amazing as the ‘mad’ Grand Duke Peter.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• 4K restoration
Original mono audio
• Introduction by Nicholas von Sternberg
• Audio commentary with writer and film programmer Tony Rayns
The Twilight of an Angel (2012): Dominique Leeb’s acclaimed French TV documentary on Dietrich’s final years
• Image gallery

The Devil Is a Woman (1935)
This is von Sternberg’s ultimate tribute to the Marlene Dietrich mystique that he himself helped to create. Dietrich’s personal favourite, the sumptuous, steamy melodrama, set in 1890s Spain, sees her playing a seductive femme fatale bewitching a string of men, including Lionel Atwill and Cesar Romero (who replaced Joel McCrea after one day’s filming). The same story was the basis for Luis Buñuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire.

SPECIAL FEATURES
• 4K restoration
Original mono audio
• Introduction by Nicholas von Sternberg
The Fashion Side of Hollywood (1935): a short compilation film of lighting and costume tests from Paramount productions, and featuring costume designer Travis Banton
Styling the Stars: New interview with Nathalie Morris, film historian and senior curator of the BFI National Archive’s Special Collections, on the costume designs of Travis Banton
If It Isn’t Pain (1935, 3 mins): excised audio of the deleted musical number from The Devil Is a Woman

About Peter Fuller

Peter Fuller is an award-winning print, radio and television journalist and producer, with over 30 years experience covering film and television, with a special interest in world cinema and popular culture. He is a leading expert on the life and career of Vincent Price and actively promotes the actor's legacy through publications, websites and special events.

Posted on August 20, 2019, in Classic, Hollywood Classic, Must-See and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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