Film told in flashbacks of an older man's obsession for a woman who can belong to no-one but can frustrate everyone. The backdrop is SternbergÍs surreal and fantastic Carnaval in Spain. In ... See full summary »
Josef von Sternberg
Edward Everett Horton
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A beautiful woman whose mystery provokes and rivets all viewers, a vamp, a spy, a seductress, a temptress, a woman of many faces and many names, desire embodied where just a look suffices to magnetize the strongest men. How predictable and 'kitschy' it may seem; nevertheless, how accurately it recalls a tendency widespread in the heyday of silver screen: make female celebrities as attractive as possible so that viewers can flock to see them in their most weird roles. They will become the dream of 'husbands' and envy of 'wives' And while Greta Garbo, the queen of MGM, appeared to stun many viewers as a spy lighting up the candles in THE MYSTERIOUS LADY, the burning desires really burst out here at Marlene Dietrich as a spy X27 playing the piano (manipulating everything) on the verge of climactic insanity.
DISHONORED, quite often compared to some other films of the time and treated in the inferior position to others, is undeservedly quite an underrated production. And sadly so because the cooperation of Josef Von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich boasts of some really valuable moments here. Set in the early 20th century Austria, the sets seem to stun equally as the music. The whole movie still occurs to be a visually and atmospherically arousing achievement. The use of classical music, which combines the traditional tunes of Johann Strauss's "The Blue Danube" waltz with the unconventional "Waves of the Danube" by Iosif Ivanovici, seems to manifest the core of the storyline: all those contradictory emotions, plans, events provoked by a woman with her black cat.
The woman who is not afraid of life nor death; the woman of many masks who selects within a broad spectrum of roles needed in closely-knit expectations: from a prostitute to a housewife. Consequently, she is a woman who prefers not to give her true name and appears as a mysterious cipher, X27. Besides, she is the woman who hunts for men and ... slowly goes on undressing...not so much driven by the flesh but the duty. There is no need to say more about the character because everything is rewarded by one name - MARLENE DIETRICH. Her marvelous performance is a purifying combination of conventional acting and unconventional ideas, a lovely manifestation of juxtaposing personality. She does a flawless job as a delicious teaser, a sophisticated woman, a masochistic pianist, an extremely funny little housewife but foremost a foxy spy greatly absorbing. Her character stands for a cat no matter if it is a humorous meow or sensual wow. Among her very best roles, many critics recall the finale, the execution when she stays cold mentally and delicious visually (even the lipstick). The moment, though considerably different, is sometimes compared to or rather contrasted with Garbo's walk filled with 'holy bliss' in MATA HARI. Though great is the moment, I prefer another one: seduction of Colonel Kranau (Victor McLaglen) where Marlene embodies desire. "I have a feeling we've met before" appears literal and metaphorical. Moreover, the source inspiration for the the manner the scene is shot, Picasso's "Les Damoiselles D'Avignon," is a worthwhile effect on the screen (Keith Uhlich analyzes it accurately in his 2003 review). And the men?
Warner Oland as General Von Hindau gives a terrific performance in his short but crucial moments for the storyline. Acquainted with X27 at the mask ball (a scene also filled with associations: note the bird and the balloon, for instance), he invites her to his room and there...so much happens, so much is revealed, such a tension grows... Victor Mc Laglen is also captivating as Colonel Kranau who does not merely come to see her for a kiss but... Nevertheless, the man who remains, to me, most memorable is Gustav Von Seyffertitz (also an accurate example for recalling THE MYSTERIOUS LADY).
An interesting film thanks to Marlene and the mysterious lady she portrays. A little bit shocking film like most of Von Sternberg's films but what would it all be if the director were not present, somehow? All in all, no masterpiece but a worth seeing pre-Code production! Highly recommended for silver screen lovers. 7/10
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