"I Wish You Love" offers a time capsule of Miss Dietrich's legendary stage act. The television special was taped in London over two days and later edited to a one-hour concert version. Dietrich wasn't pleased with the final result, saying that it "ain't as good," not on a par with her usual exellence. Still, if this late Dietrich concert doesn't show the diva at her most brilliant, it is still fascinating to watch her cast her spell over an audience and the artful way in which she manoevures their every emotion with her choreographed moves and song. She sings some of her old movie songs, war ballads and love songs. Highlights include her rendition of "Where have all the flowers gone."Written by
I got within twenty feet of Marlene Dietrich while 'I Wish You Love' was in rehearsal; her concert was produced by Bentwood Television, the U.S. production company of Alexander Cohen, in whose London office I was then employed. (Five years earlier, Cohen had staged Dietrich's concert performance as one of his 'Nine O'Clock Theatre' offerings.) As a mere staffer, I had no direct contact with Dietrich. I recall that she didn't get along with Alex Cohen's dog.
At this late point in her life, Dietrich made very few public appearances; she was emaciated and had an extremely creped neck. For this live concert, later televised in Britain and Stateside, Dietrich looks magnificent ... but her allure is a triumph of engineering. She was trussed into a skin-tight outfit strategically padded to give her a shapely physique. Her bugle-beaded bodice is made of sheer fabric, through which is glimpsed what appears to be her decolletage, but which is actually a sheath of flesh-coloured latex concealing the sagging hills of legend. Her throat is firm and taut, with no rumour of wrinkle ... because the same latex sheath tightly encircles her turkey neck, and is kept in place with a sequined choker to conceal the join. Dietrich spends most of the evening stock-still at centre stage, permitting the camera to worship her ... largely because she can barely move in that tight cozzy. At no time in this concert is Dietrich seen from the rear, as that angle would have revealed the corset-like trusswork of her outfit.
The excellent music arrangements here are by Burt Bacharach. Before his songwriting career took off, Bacharach worked as Dietrich's arranger during the last years of her nightclub career. When Dietrich permitted Alex Cohen to lure her back into the limelight, she insisted that Bacharach be engaged as her arranger. Bacharach didn't need the work, but he complied for old time's sake, and does a superb job.
One of the songs which Dietrich performs here is Cole Porter's 'I Get a Kick Out of You'. Rather than sing Porter's original lyric -- 'I get no kick from cocaine' -- or the substitute which Frank Sinatra and others have used -- 'Some like the perfume from Spain' -- Dietrich warbles 'I think that smoking's insane'. Although it's not mentioned in the credits, I know that this lyric change was supplied for Dietrich by her longtime friend Noel Coward, at her personal request. (It was the last lyric Coward wrote; he died the year that this concert was filmed.) Considering how much nicotine Dietrich conspicuously inhaled over the decades, this particular lyric change was (shall we say) ironic.
Many of the numbers which Dietrich performs here are hits from her long film career. I was disappointed that she doesn't sing her 1950s novelty number 'He's Too Old to Cut the Mustard Anymore'. One song she does sing here, vivaciously, is her great Frank Loesser hit 'See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have'. When Dietrich performed this song in the movie 'Destry Rides Again', she did an amusing bit of business: using one hand to pull and release the skin of her own throat, producing a weird semi-yodel vibrato effect. In this concert, she doesn't repeat that business: she didn't dare, due to what I've mentioned about her neck.
Dietrich is firmly a pro here, holding her adoring audience in the palm of her hand. I enjoyed every number in this concert, with one exception. Late in the evening, Dietrich performs Pete Seeger's 'Where Have All the Flowers Gone?'. I've enjoyed this poignant ballad when performed simply and unpretentiously by female vocalists less talented than Dietrich. For some reason, she performs her vocal arrangement with a bizarre conceit. Seeger's original lyric runs: 'Gone to young girls, every one. (Slight pause.) When will they ever learn?' Instead, Dietrich sings: 'Gone to young girls every one WHEN! (Long significant pause.) Will we ever learn?' She repeats this change -- bellowing 'WHEN!' too soon, and bunging it into the previous line -- in every verse of Seeger's lyric. Whatever she intended, it doesn't work. (Trivia note: Seeger's song was inspired by a passage in the Soviet novel 'And Quiet Flows the Don'.)
Although Dietrich put her unique stamp on many songs over her legendary career, there's no doubt as to which song defines her image more deeply than any other. As edited for UK and US television, this concert features frequent commercial breaks, each of them bridged with the music for 'Falling in Love Again' from 'The Blue Angel'. The constant repetition of that theme -- without Dietrich's smoky voice singing the words -- becomes annoying. About three-quarters of the way through this concert, Dietrich comments: "I sang a song in the film 'The Blue Angel'" ... and then, when her audience burst into applause, she mischievously smiles and adds: 'No, not THAT one.' She then proceeds to sing 'They Call Me Naughty Lola', her less successful song from that same landmark film.
It's obvious that Dietrich is saving her biggest hit for last. Sure enough, as her finale, Dietrich wistfully sings 'Falling in Love Again' (for what must have been the thousandth time in her career). The camera cuts to a montage of photos reflecting her long glamorous career and remarkable life. The audience give her a standing ovation, which she richly deserves.
Marlene Dietrich was one of a kind, and this concert 'I Wish You Love' probably conveys her mystique and her stardom more eloquently than any other single performance she ever gave, including 'The Blue Angel'. I'll rate this triumph 9 points out of 10.
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