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 a café the older man details his encounters with the heart breaker that his younger friend has only just met at the parade. Forewarned, the young man swears he will avoid the fate of his friend, but rushes all the same to his evening rendezvous. A dreamlike story of frustrated, lost romance, spoken in the past tense, never really resolved.Written by
Joel McCrea left the cast after one day's work because of a disagreement with director Josef von Sternberg. Joseph Breen of the Hays Office suggested an ending in which Pasqual shoots Concha so that she could not get off scot-free after years of bad behavior. Although that was rejected, several cuts were eventually made to eliminate sexual innuendos. See more »
Strangest of the Strange -- Von Sternberg and Dietrich's Most Exotic and Fully Realized Collaboration
If you have never seen one of Josef Von Sternberg's strange and wonderful movies, it is virtually impossible to describe it for you. It is one of those experiences you have to be there to really get it. His beautiful and exotic pictures are not for all tastes. This is not to assume any position of intellectual superiority for liking them or feeling inferior if you don't. Sternberg's movies are like buttermilk. Some people, yours truly included, regard buttermilk as a golden elixir, whereas others think of it as the most repulsive beverage imaginable. Sternberg's oft-stated cinematic philosophy was that a movie didn't need much of a story as long as it looked good. Hardly anyone would disagree that his films look good indeed. In his hands the beautiful, luminous black and white cinematography that was virtually standard for Hollywood movies of the 'thirties and the 'forties became absolutely gorgeous. Like a painting of the great Itallian Renesance artist Caravaggio, every shot in every scene shows the main focus character illuminated in contrast to a rather dark background. Whereas Caravaggio preferred minimalist backgrounds, Von Sternberg's sets are baroque extravaganzas of detail -- mazes of railings, stairways, lattices, chairs, trees, winding narrow streets, with the main characters and such action as there is often obscured by smoke, fog, lattice, twisted tree limbs, flogging chickens, snowstorms of confetti. Critics have argued that this approach to filming tends to dehumanize his characters. I must agree, but with the reservation that it is still great fun to watch -- and listen to as well, for Sternberg makes masterful use of sound. Tinkling wine glasses, igniting matches, footfalls, swishing gowns, and a thousand other little sounds unite with a full-bodied score as more building blocks of Sternberg's grand, sensuous scheme. The Rimsky-Korsakov inspired score of The Devil Is A Woman so flows with the movement of characters, especially in the first half of the picture, that it begins to resemble a ballet.
Sternberg was at his best in the seven pictures he made in collaboration with the beautiful Marlene Dietrich, and she was certainly at her best under his direction. The Devil Is A Woman is the last of these, and probably their best. According to IMDb trivia section, Dietrich thought so, enough that she kept a pristine print of the picture in a vault. Thank you, Marlene, that we may now enjoy the gorgeous DVD transfer. The Devil Is A Woman certainly seems to have best captured Von Sternberg's artistic vision. It has only the most minimal plot but is an absolute visual and auditory treat. With the possible exception of Dishonored, it is the one of Sternberg's numbers that most reinforces my suspicion he would have be just as happy to have had mannequins to move around within his beautiful sets as the talented actors Paramount spent big money to put at his disposal.
My 23 fellow reviewers have made valiant efforts to capture the essence of this movie. They have given us everything from a Freudian masochistic theory to a sermon by a nice little Christian guy or gal from Australia on the nature of the Devil. I don't disagree with most of the content of the latter, but somehow feel that it and most of the other reviews miss the point of the movie -- if it had one, and Sternberg would have probably told us it didn't and didn't have to. This movie hypnotically holds your attention from beginning to end, not only because of Sternberg's mesmerizing ability as a film maker, but because of the acting talent of the three principals, Marlene Dietrich, Lionel Atwill, and Cesar Romero. Complaints have been that it is dramatically weak, but I believe that is because it was not intended to be a drama, but a comedy. I know I laughed all the way through it. Certainly Dietrich's character, her mother (Alison Sipworth), and her one-eyed old hag of a manager were intended to be funny. Edward Everet Horton as the irritable alcalde was likewise a hoot. Romero (the Latin lover-boy), Atwill (the stuffy army officer-politician), and Dietrich (the incredibly shallow, callous courtesan) were all humorous parodies of their types and perhaps of the actors, themselves!
Maybe Josef Von Sternberg had the last laugh.
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