06Feb12 – 8 – Blonde Venus (Josef von Sternberg: 1932)
It’s a pity that BLONDE VENUS (1932) is only remembered for the “Hot Voodoo” musical sequence since it’s the worst thing about the movie: a dreadful song made worse by a racist and ineptly executed production number that isn’t even so bad/vulgar/racist/over-the-top it’s funny. It’s just garden variety lousy. The movie as a whole, however, is quite low-key and without the usual Sternberg excesses that I adore, and Dietrich is at her least stylized and artificial, which are what I love *her* for. And there are two other production numbers (“You Little So-and-So” and “I Couldn’t Be Annoyed”) that are among Dietrich’s best despite, or rather because of, their restraint.
Herbert Marshall and especially Dickie Moore are annoying (what else is new?), but Cary Grant is handsome and sophisticated, and the “Cary Grant” persona is still fresh. (An aside: Sternberg shoots Grant in one scene from a bizarre angle where his head takes on the appearance of an art deco bust. It’s spectacular. Well, I think so.) Rita La Roy stands out as fellow chantoozie Taxi Belle Hooper, whose been-there-heard-that-before affect is deliciously pre-Code (as is the frankness about prostitution in general). Delightful cameos by Sterling Holloway and, especially, the unbilled Hattie McDaniel. And Dietrich sings in German in her natual register several times to great effect. It’s a pity she didn’t record more using that voice. I can’t be objective about Dietrich. I should probably say it’s “pretty good”, but I can’t. 8/10. [2/5/12]