Josef Von Sternberg

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Siegfried Kracauer

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 506

[The Blue Angel's international success] can be traced to two major reasons, the first of which was decidedly Marlene Dietrich. Her Lola Lola was a new incarnation of sex. This petty bourgeois Berlin tart, with her provocative legs and easy manners, showed an impassivity which incited one to grope for the secret behind her callous egoism and cool insolence…. The other reason for the film's success was its outright sadism. The masses are irresistibly attracted by the spectacle of torture and humiliation, and Sternberg deepened this sadistic tendency by making Lola Lola destroy not only [the professor] himself but his entire environment. A running motif in the film is the old church-clock which chimes a popular German tune devoted to the praise of loyalty and honesty (Üb' immer Treu und Redlichkeit …)—a tune expressive of [the professor's] inherited beliefs. In the concluding passage, immediately after Lola Lola's song has faded away, this tune is heard for the last time as the camera shows the dead [professor]. Lola Lola has killed him, and in addition her song has defeated the chimes.

Besides being a sex story or a study in sadism, Sternberg's film vigorously resumes postwar traditions, marking the definite end of the paralysis. The Blue Angel can be considered a variation on Karl Grune's The Street. Like the philistine from the plush parlor, [the] professor is representative of the middle class; like the philistine, he rebels against the conventions by exchanging school for The Blue Angel, counterpart of the street; and exactly like the philistine, this would-be rebel again submits—not, it is true, to the old middle-class standards, but to powers far worse than those from which he escaped. It is significant that he increasingly appears to be the victim of the manager rather than Lola Lola's personal slave. Love has gone, indiscriminate surrender remains…. The Blue Angel poses anew the problem of German immaturity and moreover elaborates its consequences as manifested in the conduct of the boys and artists, who like the professor are middle-class offspring. Their sadistic cruelty results from the very immaturity which forces their victim into submission. It is as if the film implied a warning, for these screen figures anticipate what will happen in real life a few years later. The boys are born Hitler youths, and the cockcrowing device is a modest contribution to a group of similar, if more ingenious, contrivances much used in Nazi concentration camps.

Two characters stand off from these events: the clown of the artists' company, a mute figure constantly observing his temporary colleague, and the school beadle who is present at the professor's death…. He does not talk either. These two witness, but do not participate. Whatever they may feel, they refrain from interference. Their silent resignation foreshadows the passivity of many people under totalitarian rule. (pp. 216-18)

Siegfried Kracauer, "Murderer Among Us," in his From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film (copyright 1947 © 1975 by Princeton University Press; reprinted by permission of Princeton University Press), Princeton University Press, 1947, pp. 215-22.∗

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