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American chemist Ned Faraday marries a German entertainer and starts a family. However, he becomes poisoned with Radium and needs an expensive treatment in Germany to have any chance at being cured. Wife Helen returns to night club work to attempt to raise the money and becomes popular as the Blonde Venus. In an effort to get enough money sooner, she prostitutes herself to millionaire Nick Townsend. While Ned is away in Europe, she continues with Nick but when Ned returns cured, he discovers her infidelity. Now Ned despises Helen but she grabs son Johnny and lives on the run, just one step ahead of the Missing Persons Bureau. When they do finally catch her, she loses her son to Ned. Once again she returns to entertaining, this time in Paris, and her fame once again brings her and Townsend together. Helen and Nick return to America engaged, but she is irresistibly drawn back to her son and Ned. In which life does she truly belong? Written by
Gary Jackson <email@example.com>
BLONDE VENUS (Paramount, 1932), is in no way a science fiction story nor an original screenplay remade as QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE (1958), but a melodrama starring Marlene Dietrich under the direction with original story by Josef Von Sternberg. A pre-code "soap opera" commonly found during the Depression era, it revolves around a faithful wife sacrificing everything for the sake of her husband, even to the point of an illicit affair, prostitution and falling victim of circumstance through a series of misunderstandings. For Dietrich's fifth of her seven films under Von Sternberg's stern direction, this was reportedly their first box office flop. In spite of that, it's become one of their more interesting collaborations.
Plot summary: Edward "Ned" Faraday (Herbert Marshall), is a young chemist traveling in Germany with his students (one of them the very familiar Sterling Holloway as Joe). After coming across a beautiful German girl (Marlene Dietrich) skinny dipping in the pond with her friends, he takes such an interest in her that he returns to America with Helen as his wife. Settling in a New York City apartment, their union produces a son named Johnny (Dickie Moore). All goes well until Ned, having worked years on his experiments, discovers that he's been contaminated with radium poisoning with as much as eight months to live. Although advised by his doctor (Morgan Wallace) to seek immediate treatment from a specialist in Europe, he's unable to come up with $1,500 for his needed expenses, but thanks to Helen, she acquires a job through theatrical agent Ben Smith (Gene Morgan), returning to her former profession as a cabaret singer, working at Dan O'Connor's (Robert Emmett O'Connor) night club where she's headlined as Helen Jones, "The Blonde Venus." An immediate success, Helen attracts the attention of Nick Townsend (Cary Grant), a millionaire playboy, who becomes her sole support. After bidding farewell to Ned as he leaves by boat for Europe, Helen takes Johnny and moves in with Townsend, becoming his mistress. When Ned returns home before time, he discovers the truth about Helen and no longer wants any part of her. As Ned goes through the process of divorce, demanding custody of their son, Helen runs away with Johnny, starting a long journey through various states, landing odd jobs, and being just one step ahead of of a detective (Sidney Toler) hot on her trail.
Although Dietrich played cabaret singers and entertainers many times on screen to take advantage of her musical talents, BLONDE VENUS offers her a rare opportunity playing both wife and mother. On the musical program, however, Dietrich gets to sing and perform in such numbers as "Hot Voodoo" "You Little So-and-So" (both written by Sam Coslow and Ralph Rainger) and "I Couldn't Be Annoyed" (by Leo Robin and Richard Whiting). Of the three tunes, "Hot Voodoo" is most memorable with bizarre touches with Dietrich entering center stage in gorilla suit surrounded by black natives, then slipping out of her costume, wearing a fuzzy blonde wig. As for "I Couldn't Be Annoyed," set in a Paris cabaret, Dietrich wears a white tuxedo and top hot.
When BLONDE VENUS was presented on commercial television from the 1960s to 1980s, all circulating prints began abruptly following the opening credits with a ship docking New York harbor, followed by Helen (Dietrich) bathing her little boy (Moore), and then husband (Marshall) entering a doctor's office notifying him of his serious condition with radium poisoning. It wasn't until the mid 1980s where the deleted fade-in of Faraday's meeting with Helen in a suggestive skinny dipping sequence was restored to its original 94 minute length, and shown intact for the first time in years on cable stations as The Movie Channel (1991), Turner Classic Movies (2001), as well as video cassette (1990s) and finally DVD.
With Dietrich supported by a couple of British actors, it seemed odd for both Marshall and Grant playing Americans, though their backgrounds are not really fully established. This matter might have been resolved had the plot been set in England. Other members of the cast include Rita LaRoy as Taxi Belle Hooper; Cecil Cunningham and Louise Beavers.
While portions of BLONDE VENUS may appear to be borrowing from Leo Tolstoy's literary novel, ANNA KARENINA, with the devoted wife losing both husband and custody of a son she so dearly loves for her involvement with another man, it breaks away from Tolstoy moving to a different direction according to Von Sternberg, that actually develops into a presentable story. Although the pacing is slow and repetitive, with actors speaking in low-key manner for example, who could forget little Johnny repeatedly asking to hear the bedtime story on how his parents met in Germany before going to sleep, as well as the Von Sternberg visual style of interesting camera shots, super imposing, montage effects, dark images and close-ups on the principles, frequent underscoring (complimemts of Oscar Potoker), and most of all, the Blonde Venus herself, Dietrich. (**)
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