When "The Blue Angel" was originally released in 1930 Germany, director Josef von Sternberg filmmed two versions, one in German and one in English. Kino, who has released this on DVD, includes both versions. I have seen them both and have decided the German language version is better. I will explain certain differences between the two. The plot and the cast are the same, but minor edits were made to the American version. This review and its rating are a reflection of the German language version.
One of the most interesting things you will notice about "The Blue Angel" is Emil Jannings is given credit above the title. When modern film goers think of this movie (assuming they do) it is often thought of as the movie that made Marlene Dietrich a star and her singing of "Falling in Love Again". However it was Jannings who was the true star. He was one of the best known actors during Germany's silent film days. He is probably best known for the F.W. Murnau film, "The Last Laugh". Dietrich, at the time, was an unknown young German actress.
As in "The Last Laugh" Jannings plays a man of respectability who falls to new lows. In "The Blue Angel" he plays Professor Immanuel Rath. He learns that several of his students attend a nightclub at night called "The Blue Angel". This disturbs Rath greatly. He does not want his students to be subjected to the vulgarity which goes on in the club, where the main attraction is a cabaret singer, who parades around in skimpy clothes, Lola Lola (Dietrich). Of course, by today's standards, the idea of a teacher trying to protect their students from sex is a foreign one to us. We are use to hearing about students sleeping with their teachers. If the movie was made today the teacher would probably tell his students about the nightclub.
Prof. Rath goes to "The Blue Angel" in the hopes of catching his students and confronting Lola Lola in person. When he does see her in person he, like everyone else, is mesmerized. He has instantly fallen under her spell. And continues to go back to the club to see Lola Lola. Finally he asks her to marry him, which she does.
Once they marry Prof. Rath is fired from the local college and finds his social status has disappeared. At first he objected to Lola Lola continuing to perform at various clubs, but when he has no money to support them, she becomes the breadwinner. In one early humiliating scene, after Lola Lola's performance, Prof. Rath walks around the club trying to sell sexy postcards of his wife. And that is basically what the film is about, one man's fall from grace all because of a woman.
While the Professor character is suppose to be an intelligent man, he is presented as absent-minded. Is this where the cliche "absent-minded professor" character started? He always misplaces his hat and various other things. He constantly has a confused look on his face as he always double checks his pockets to make sure he has everything.
Many people often wonder why does Lola Lola marry Prof. Rath. While such a question is certainly up for debate my feeling is at the time he proposed, he represented something she admired. When we first see Lola Lola singing, she sings a song about wanting a "he-man". A man of action who has passion in his eyes. At first Prof. Rath is such a person. When a drunken sailor comes into the club, expecting some alone time with Lola Lola, and possibly more, it is Prof. Rath who defends her honor (if any is left). And beats up the manager, a magician (Kurt Gerron). Lola Lola also sees how strict he is with his students as he disciplines them in front of her. In these moments Prof. Rath is a man of action. Power is what attracts Lola Lola.
When Lola Lola first sings "Falling in Love Again" the lyrics seem flirtatious. It is as if she is talking to Prof. Rath when she sings lyrics which state "falling in love again/never wanted to/ but I can't help it". I translate this as she never meant to fall in love again but the Prof. came into her life and now she can't help her feelings. The song is sung again at the end of the film but this time it seems cynical. It's not that her delivery of the song has changed, but the lyrics now take on a different meaning after all these characters have been through. Lola Lola may not actually be singing about "love". Prof. Rath now seems to be like one of the many men who have fallen under her charms, but she is innocent. She can't help what happens. She now seems cold and selfish. No man can win her affection for a long time.
Once the Professor hits hard times, he becomes part of the act, assisting the magician, dressed as a clown. The film's climax, is when the traveling group heads back to "The Blue Angel". Prof. Rath has not been back to his hometown since he married Lola Lola. What will the townspeople think of him now?
At this point in the film Lola Lola doesn't seem interested in Prof. Rath. A strong man, Mazeppa (Hans Albers) has caught her attention. He openly flirts with Lola Lola right in front of Rath! Who remains helpless. His dignity has been taken away from him. He can't even defend himself or his wife's honor, as he once did.
I mentioned some differences between the German version and the English version. The German version seems more scandalous. One of the students is caught in the classroom with a picture of Lola Lola, in which she has a grass skirt on. If you blow hard enough the skirt flies up. When Prof. Rath is alone, he blows on the picture. This is not shown in the English language version. When Lola Lola is singing a song, her costume has no backside. She is in her underwear. During her performance she turns around to expose to back, in the English version the camera cuts away, in the German version we see her backside.
Besides these minor differences in editing, what also makes the German language version better is when the film was translated for English, it was poorly done. First of all, some characters still speak in German and no subtitled is given for what they are saying. Secondly, the translated script itself, is no good. I had a difficult time understanding what was going on. Events were not properly explained. The German version cleared up lots of things.
Today we can see how influential the film has become. We can clearly see how the Lola Lola character inspired the Sally Bowles character and Liza Minnelli's performance in "Cabaret". If you have ever seen Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles" this is what Madeline Kahn was spoofing in her performance. And Rainer Werner Fassbinder remade the film in the 1980s, with his version called "Lola" (which I have already reviewed). It was part of his trilogy on Germany's economy.
As in "Lola", I also wonder if "The Blue Angel" could be interrupted as representing Germany and/or its economy since Prof. Rath was a great man who has now been reduced to nothing but yearns to go back to his former glory. Remember this film was made in 1930 and Germany's economy was still hurting. This gave rise to the Nazi party.
"The Blue Angel" set up Dietrich's career and von Sternberg's as well. The two would work together on "Shanghai Express" and "Morocco" both of which earned von Sternberg an Oscar nomination for best director. Oddly though sound films caused the decline of Jannings career. Unlike Dietrich he could never cross over to English language films because of his accent.
But "The Blue Angel" is a film which deserves to be re-discovered by a whole new group of film lovers. Hopefully they will.