Saturday, May 17, 2003


The last movie that Josef von Sternberg made with Marlene Dietrich. In some places, this one is almost as surreal and delirious as SCARLET EMPRESS, but it's not nearly as satisfying as most of their collaborations. In Spain during a street festival, young revolutionary Cesar Romero meets up with older military man Lionel Atwill, who warns him about succumbing to the charms of the lovely Concha (Dietrich), the local femme fatale. In a flashback sequence that takes up most of the film's length, we see Atwill fall for the fickle (and perhaps sadomasochistic) Dietrich, who leads him on a humiliating chase involving money, favors, and cheating. It's a little difficult given the Production Code strictures to know if and when Atwill and Dietrich actually consummate their relationship, but there's no doubt that she leaves a string of disappointed and frustrated men in her path. Despite Atwill's warning, Romero falls for Dietrich, and Atwill winds up in a duel with him.

Like most of Von Sternberg's films, this is visually striking, with elaborate costumes, detailed sets, and shimmering black and white cinematography. Romero is sexy and interesting, before he became something of a fluffy stereotyped Latin lover; Atwill does a fairly good job playing against type as a romantic hero (or anti-hero), though someone like John Barrymore or maybe even Gary Cooper would have given the role more heft. Dietrich is sometimes too petulant; it feels like she couldn't quite get a handle on her character, and therefore she comes off as not quite believable. One scene, where she won't kiss Atwill because she doesn't want to muss her hair, reminded me of a similar scene played for laughs between Madeline Kahn and Gene Wilder in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. Edward Everett Horton has a small role, and Alison Skipworth is fine as Dietrich's scheming mother. Not a great film, but like all of the Dietrich/Sternberg films, quite watchable.

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