Friday, December 21, 2001


One of the more notorious collaborations between Marlene Dietrich and director Josef von Sternberg. I like Dietrich, but I haven't seen many of her Sternberg films, so I can't really judge this one by that criterion. Dietrich plays an actress/chorus girl who settles down with a chemist and has a kid, leaving her career behind. The husband gets radium poisoning and, against his protests, she returns to nightclub work (in the infamous "Hot Voodoo" number which she sings in a gorilla suit) to get money to pay for hubby's medical treatments. She takes up with a millionaire playboy to get more money more quickly, but hubby finds out and threatens to have the kid taken away from her. She hits the road with the kid and things get even weirder.

This had potential, and Dietrich is great, especially in her musical numbers, but Herbert Marshall just about sinks the picture as the husband. In the right role, I like Marshall (THE RAZOR'S EDGE, THE LITTLE FOXES), but he's not right for this. I can't believe that the glamourous, young, vibrant Dietrich would ever settle down with Marshall unless it was for his money, and he doesn't have any here. Dietrich is surprisingly good in her domestic scenes with the kid (Dickie Moore). Cary Grant is the playboy--he's at his youngest and sexiest here. I won't give any other plot points away except to say that the career/family dichotomy plays out quite traditionally in this movie. This has a camp reputation, but except for her song in the gorilla suit, and a later one which she sings in a glittering white tux, I'm not sure why. If anything, instead of exaggeration, everyone pretty much underplays here, which is a problem given the somewhat bizarre material that cries out for over-the-top treatment. Sidney Toler ("Charlie Chan") is a detective and Sterling Holloway has a couple of lines of dialogue early on. There's also a lushly shot skinny-dipping scene under the opening credits I'm looking forward to some better Dietrich/von Sternberg films in TCM in January.

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