Josef Von Sternberg John Alfred Thomas - Essay

John Alfred Thomas

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Dishonored is likely to seem a fabric of "hokum," especially when it is taken so seriously by its director. Each episode is protracted with fond care, the story moves slowly and ponderously, and the result naturally seems long drawn out. Furthermore, the picture concentrates on [Marlene Dietrich] and a mood, and what faults it has can be attributed mainly to the reverence in which Mr. Josef von Sternberg holds his own story, his own actress and his own mood.

To see only these defects, though, is to overlook much of positive value, much of promise, in Dishonored. (p. 12)

[Von Sternberg's] use of dialogue and sound is almost always an integral use and … it reinforces considerably the emotional and dramatic content of the picture. The fact remains that, despite its faults, the von Sternberg technique is one of the few intelligent approaches to the problem of uniting sound and speech with the motion picture. (p. 13)

[In this story], von Sternberg has written neither well nor wisely. The best thing that can be said for his story is that it presents a uniquely subtle sort of love, and presents it quietly…. Where others skulk in shadows von Sternberg revels in them and the scenes at a piano and in dark cells are memorable compositions. The camerawork is remarkable for its beauty and its ability to convey a mood.

The most obvious use of sound in the film is that of making a piano almost one of the protagonists. It is used to project the emotion of the person playing, usually the star, and in one sequence it makes a transfer by which you understand that the code message, written in music, spells the death of the enemy, a sequence ending in the sound of war. (pp. 13-14)

There are other points of interest, like the reticent handling by which sound indicates a picture to you without the redundancy of showing the image also, but they are likely to be overlooked because of the weaknesses of story structure, attitude and sense of drag which tend to obscure them. Dishonored is not a first-rate picture, but it is an intelligent and possibly even important picture, produced by one who has the makings of a completely first-rate director…. (p. 14)

John Alfred Thomas, "Exceptional Photoplays: 'Dishonored'," in National Board of Review Magazine, Vol. VI, No. 4, April, 1931, pp. 12-14.