Producer Erich Pommer’s idea of engaging Josef von Sternberg to direct Emil Jannings’ first starring vehicle for UFA proved an astute calculation. On top of the drawing power of Jannings comes the discovery of a new magnet, Marlene Dietrich.
At the beginning the scenario sticks pretty closely to the novel, Professor Unrath by Heinrich Mann, on which it is founded. A middle-aged school teacher discovers that several of his pupils are attending a dive, the Blue Angel, and hanging around the performer Lola. He goes to the cabaret in the hope of catching them redhanded and falls for the singer himself.
Despite the jeers of his pupils and the warnings of the principal of the school, he marries Lola. As a result, he loses his position. In the novel he and the girl remain in the town and she takes on several influential citizens. At the end the two are running a well-paying gambling house patronized by all the good burghers.
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Sternberg chose a more conventional twist. The teacher sinks from peddler of postcards showing his wife in semi-nudity to assistant in a magician’s act. Despite his protests, he has to play in his native town and is featured on the bill under his real name.
Kurt Gerron and Rosa Valetti as a hard-boiled conjuror and old comedienne are perfect in their roles of rather sardonic comic relief. Dietrich as Lola has a slow-rhythmed sensuality which gets over without being in any way crude or offensive.
Sound on the whole satisfactory, especially the music. Dialog not always natural in quality and in the dramatic passages has a tendency to become distorted.
Only fault is a certain ponderousness of tempo which tends to tire. The story is not one with strong dramatic impulse and seldom grips with suspense or moves you emotionally. It is the exceptional playing of Jannings and Dietrich, and the sensitive direction of Sternberg which put it across.
[Review above is of German version. Paramount released the English version, shot at the same time, later that year, following its success with Morocco, Dietrich’s first US picture.]