A pre-world war film which taught Cabaret a thing or two, but while sharing a flair for the dramatic with Bob Fosse’s film, it does scale all new depths when it comes to humanity, and exploring the bleaker side to becoming a star. This is an unexpected character study, of the nature of men and women in 1930’s Germany, as well as the expectations, placed on someone by their social standing.
In her first major film role Marlene Dietrich is in sparkling form, as the bubbly, but powerful nightclub performer Lola. On the opposite side of the social ladder is highly respected Professor Rath (Emil Jannings), who when following a couple of his students to the Blue Angel Night club, slowly gets draw into that seedy lifestyle, but more crucially falls head over heels in love with the sweet, but apparently naive Lola. When Rath is sacked for the bad example he is setting to his students, he decides to ask Lola to marry him, and so ends up going on tour with his new wife. It soon turns out that life in showbiz, and marriage to Lola is not everything that the Professor expected it to be.
Part of the key to this movie is the opening scene with Lola performing the classic ballad falling in Love Again. The lyrics take on a new tragic meaning, when delivered by Dietrich with that Dry, Ice Cold expression, and those heavy eyes. The haunting repetition of this theme throughout the film serves as a warning, that Lola simply cannot be trusted, but also that as a common night club performer she is trapped in that role. In fact during some of their early encounters there is almost a strong insistence from the singer that the Professor should not get involved in this dirty world. In a disturbing, and yet ironic way, Lola is actually the most honest person in the whole film. Jannings gives a fantastically ripe and maniac turn, really suffering for all he’s worth at the films core.
The opening scenes of the film, suggests a very different experience, from the utter despair which slowly unfolds later on. As we get the sense of the smoky atmosphere of the night club, the camera also tightly focuses on a selection of dark brooding characters, along with the eclectic freaks. However all this is shot, and paced with the mad energy of a twisted, yet highly entertaining farce, but the film does do a three sixty mid-way, and become an unbearable story of human tragedy. The change is very well handled, and so the results very rewarding. By the end I truly believed in Rath’s journey from a much loved figure of authority to a broken down public laughing stock. Notice that his position brings its own pressures; it is just a different kind to those that Lola faces.