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. Wife Helen returns to night club work to attempt to raise the money and becomes popular as the Blonde Venus.
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Little Dickie Moore is essentially a MacGuffin to motivate the plot’s toing and froing, as featherweight a device as Marshall’s non-fatal fatal illness. The film succeeds as Sternberg intended it to, as a record of the mediated play of light on various textures including a certain woman’s face moving in rhythm with an atmospheric soundtrack.
In the Blonde Venus, not only does Helen end up making the choice to give up her son to ensure his happiness, she raises herself from pathetic drunk to headlining act in Paris. Even at her lowest moment — throwing away money and slurring her way through a cheap woman’s club — she retains the threads of humanity which help her rise again. In Sternberg’s world, nobody can even fall so low than someone who had so much to lose in the first place.
3,5 The film rolls out as though a folding screen, a huaping painted in lacquer gloss or silky shimmer. Hardly one smooth transition b/w scenes, fade-outs mark the tarnished silver hinge in the foldout paneled story where each tableau is fairly freestanding and asquint*, zigzagging as if to nullify or obscure aspects leaked before. Aside from the slide-clasp finale, where are the echoes in this serpentine progress?
Classic melodrama from director Josef von Sternberg with an iconic turn by Marlene Dietrich. Dietrich's portrayal of a woman who makes sacrifices to save her husband only to have him spurn her for infidelity is a wonder to behold. Beautifully shot and constructed throughout visually married with a solid pre-code script.
Not the best Dietrich-Sternberg, but it occupies a special place because while she's usually paired with boring lunks, here she's opposite Herbert Marshall and Cary Grant, who can't help but be interesting. Of course, she steamrolls them, her eyes reacting to every little irony of the roles women have to play. A parable of parenthood, for a society that can't accept the mother and the whore might be the same person.
It's clear to me now that Sternberg only makes masterpieces, damn the imperfections(I have not found any thus far). A baroque style serves as a revolutionary mean to a revolutionary end. Wood states this as the central Sternberg/Dietrich theme: " How does a woman, and at what cost, assert herself within an overwhelmingly male-dominated world?" Sternberg: a materialist, modernist, feminist image-maker.
Blonde Venus is perhaps the nuttiest of the films with Dietrich, where the plot is reduced to a string of cliches, the locales reduced to stereotype, & even the passional conflict between value & instinct, still so unmediated in Morocco ironized: an automatism like the broken porcelain carousel of the last shot? The entire interest is displaced onto gesture divorced from motivation, onto props, eyes, shadows & masks.
This is an interesting pre-code gem that features a seductive Dietrich and a stylishly sleazy Grant. With more plot twists then a Shaymalan film this film will have your head spinning but captivated by the haunting beauty of the film. The cabaret sequences really make this film shine.
I had not seen BLONDE VENUS for a very long time. Also: I used to, uh, tipple. Heavily. I remembered the gorilla outfit, naturally. You literally cannot forget the gorilla outfit. I remembered BV as a sucrose-heavy camp confection. As well I might have! The most blatant (subversive) attempt by von Sternberg to mount a Dietrich vehicle beholden to "woman's picture" templates. Its emotional power sneaks up on you.