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Dietrich and von Sternberg in Hollywood (Morocco, Dishonored, Shanghai Express, Blonde Venus, The Scarlet Empress, The Devil Is a Woman) (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
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Marlene Dietrich and Josef von Sternberg’s legendary collaboration
Six classics from the alluring star and her visually opulent director
Tasked by studio executives with finding the next great screen siren, visionary Hollywood director Josef von Sternberg joined forces with rising German actor Marlene Dietrich, kicking off what would become one of the most legendary partnerships in cinema history. Over the course of six films produced by Paramount in the 1930s, the pair refined their shared fantasy of pleasure, beauty, and excess.
Dietrich’s coolly transgressive mystique was a perfect match for the provocative roles—including a sultry chanteuse, a cunning spy, and Catherine the Great—and the filmmaker captured her allure with chiaroscuro lighting and opulent design, conjuring fever-dream visions of exotic settings from Morocco to Shanghai.
Special Edition Features
- New 2K or 4K digital restorations of all six films
- New documentary about actor Marlene Dietrich’s German origins
- New documentary on Dietrich’s status as a feminist icon
- A book featuring essays by critics Imogen Sara Smith, Gary Giddins, and Farran Smith Nehme
- And more!
Tasked by studio executives with finding the next great screen siren, visionary Hollywood director Josef von Sternberg joined forces with rising German actor Marlene Dietrich, kicking off what would become one of the most legendary partnerships in cinema history. Over the course of six films produced by Paramount in the 1930s, the pair refined their shared fantasy of pleasure, beauty, and excess. Dietrich’s coolly transgressive mystique was a perfect match for the provocative roles von Sternberg cast her in—including a sultry chanteuse, a cunning spy, and the hedonistic Catherine the Great—and the filmmaker captured her allure with chiaroscuro lighting and opulent design, conjuring fever-dream visions of exotic settings from Morocco to Shanghai. Suffused with frank sexuality and worldly irony, these deliriously entertaining masterpieces are landmarks of cinematic artifice.
With this romantic reverie, Marlene Dietrich made her triumphant debut before American audiences and unveiled the enthralling, insouciant persona that would define her Hollywood collaboration with director Josef von Sternberg. Set on the far side of the world but shot outside Los Angeles, Morocco navigates a labyrinth of melancholy and desire as the cabaret singer Amy Jolly (Dietrich), fleeing her former life, takes her act to the shores of North Africa, where she entertains the overtures of a wealthy man of the world while finding herself increasingly drawn to a strapping legionnaire with a shadowy past of his own (Gary Cooper). Fueled by the smoldering chemistry between its two stars, and shot in dazzling light and seductive shadow, the Oscar-nominated Morocco is a transfixing exploration of elemental passions.
In Josef von Sternberg’s atmospheric spin on the espionage thriller, Marlene Dietrich further develops her shrewd star persona in the role of a widow turned streetwalker who is recruited to spy for Austria during World War I. Adopting the codename X-27, Dietrich’s wily heroine devotes her gifts for seduction and duplicity—as well as her musical talents—to the patriotic cause, until she finds a worthy adversary in a roguish Russian colonel (Victor McLaglen), who draws her into a fatal game of cat and mouse and tests the strength of her loyalties. Reimagining his native Vienna with customary extravagance, von Sternberg stages this story of spycraft as a captivating masquerade in which no one is who they seem and death is only a wrong note away.
An intoxicating mix of adventure, romance, and pre-Code salaciousness, Shanghai Express marks the commercial peak of an iconic collaboration. Marlene Dietrich is at her wicked best as Shanghai Lily, a courtesan whose reputation brings a hint of scandal to a three-day train ride through war-torn China. On board, she is surrounded by a motley crew of foreigners and lowlifes, including a fellow fallen woman (Anna May Wong), an old flame (Clive Brook), and a rebel leader wanted by the authorities (Warner Oland). As tensions come to a boil, director Josef von Sternberg delivers one breathtaking image after another, enveloping his star in a decadent profusion of feathers, furs, and cigarette smoke. The result is a triumph of studio filmmaking and a testament to the mythic power of Hollywood glamour.
Josef von Sternberg returned Marlene Dietrich to the stage in Blonde Venus, both a glittering spectacle and a sweeping melodrama about motherly devotion. Unfolding episodically, the film tells the story of Helen (Dietrich), once a German chanteuse, now an American housewife, who resurrects her stage career after her husband (Herbert Marshall) falls ill; she then becomes the mistress of a millionaire (Cary Grant), in a slide from loving martyr to dishonored woman. Despite production difficulties courtesy of the Hays Office, the director’s baroque visual style shines, as do one of the most memorable musical numbers in all of cinema and a parade of visionary costumes by von Sternberg and Dietrich’s longtime collaborator Travis Banton.
The Scarlet Empress
Marlene Dietrich stars in Josef von Sternberg’s feverishly debauched biopic as the spoiled princess Sophia Frederica, who grows up being groomed for greatness and yearning for a handsome husband. Sent to Russia to marry the Grand Duke Peter, she is horrified to discover that her betrothed is a half-wit and her new home a macabre palace where depravity rules. Before long, however, she is initiated into the sadistic power politics that govern the court, paving the way for her transformation into the imperious libertine Catherine the Great. A lavish spectacle in which von Sternberg’s domineering visual genius reaches new heights of florid extravagance, The Scarlet Empress is a perversely erotic portrait of a woman—and a movie star—capable of bringing legions to heel.
The Devil Is a Woman
Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich went out with a bang in their final film together, The Devil Is a Woman, a surreal tale of erotic passion and danger set amid the tumult of carnival in turn-of-the-twentieth-century Spain. Through a series of flashbacks, Captain Costelar (Lionel Atwill) recounts to the young Antonio Galvan (Cesar Romero) the story of his harrowing affair with the notorious seductress Concha Perez (Dietrich), warning his listener to gird himself against her charms. Despite his counsel, Galvan falls under Concha’s spell, leading to a violent denouement. Ever the ornate visual stylist, von Sternberg evokes Spanish culture with a touch of the luridly fantastic, further elevated by Travis Banton’s opulent costume design and award-winning cinematography by von Sternberg himself.
- Is Discontinued By Manufacturer : No
- MPAA rating : s_medNotRated NR (Not Rated)
- Product Dimensions : 6.75 x 5.25 x 1.9 inches; 1.4 Pounds
- Director : Josef von Sternberg
- Media Format : NTSC, Subtitled
- Run time : 9 hours and 2 minutes
- Release date : July 3, 2018
- Actors : Marlene Dietrich
- Subtitles: : English
- Studio : Criterion Collection
- ASIN : B07C7J9VD2
- Number of discs : 6
- Best Sellers Rank: #2,941 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
- Customer Reviews:
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Amazon thought it would be cool to jumble the order of my photos.
Current Order: 8, 9, 6, 5, 4, 3, 1, 7, 2
Photo 1: Gary Cooper in 'Morocco' (wow!)
Photo 2: Victor McLaglen in 'Dishonored'
Photo 3: Clive Brook in 'Shanghai Express' (note the stiff upper lip)
Photo 4: Cary Grant in 'Blonde Venus'
Photo 5: Sam Jaffe in 'The Scarlet Empress' (who needs Cary Grant?)
Photo 6: Cesar Romero in 'The Devil is a Woman'
Photo 7: newspaper ad from 1931
Photo 8,9: Clive Brook (left) with George Bancroft in 'Underworld' (1927 silent), directed by von Sternberg.
The Blu-Ray film transfers in this box are miles ahead of earlier DVD transfers:
---- Morocco, Blonde Venus and The Devil Is a Woman were in a 2006 box from Universal Marlene Dietrich: The Glamour Collection (Morocco/ Blonde Venus/ The Devil Is a Woman/ Flame of New Orleans/ Golden Earrings)
---- Dishonored and Shanghai Express were issued by Universal (in cooperation with Turner Classic Movies) in 2012 (when the first run of DVDs sold out, they switched to burned DVD-Rs). Also in a two-DVD set Marlene Dietrich: Directed by Josef Von Sternberg
---- The Scarlet Empress (The Criterion Collection) is the only film previously on Criterion, but the DVD dates back to 2002, and is officially out-of-print.
Six blu-rays for $60 is a steal.
Each blu-ray comes in its own slim case + an 82 page booklet: all packaged in a durable slipcase.
‘Morocco’ (1930) is the oldest film in the box, and is the only 2K transfer (the others are 4K).
The picture on ‘Morocco' is not ideally sharp, but is the best we can hope for.
English subtitles for the feature films (not on the disc menu; press the subtitle button on your remote).
------ 'Weimar on the Pacific' - biography of Dietrich and von Sternberg (30 minutes)
------ 'Crazy Love' - analysis of ‘Morocco’ by Janet Bergstrom. It gives away the ending, so view the movie first (30 minutes)
------ 'The Real Amy Jolly' - story of the inspiration for Dietrich's character (5 minutes; German with English subtitles)
------ radio broadcast from 1936 on Lux Radio Theatre, with Dietrich and Clark Gable in the Gary Cooper role, hosted by Cecil B. Demille (60 minutes)
------ ‘Icon’ - analyzes Dietrich’s status as a feminist icon (22 minutes)
------ ‘Bodies & Spaces, Fabric & Light’ - analyzes the form and style of these films - hopelessly pretentious (30 minutes)
------ interview with cinematographer Nicholas Josef von Sternberg, the director’s son (15 minutes)
1932: SHANGHAI EXPRESS
------ Analysis of the film and historical perspective by film scholar Homay King - this gives away a crucial plot element, so watch the movie first (25 minutes)
1932: BLONDE VENUS
------ Tour of Marlene Dietrich memorabilia collection at the Deutsche Kinemathek (15 minutes, in German with English subtitles)
------ Documentary about Paramount fashion designer Travis Banton (15 minutes)
------ “The Fashion Side of Hollywood”, a 1935 promotional short featuring Travis Banton - highlight: Claudette Colbert wearing a “gown of vulture feathers” (10 minutes)
1934: THE SCARLET EMPRESS (1934)
------ Swedish Television interview from 1971 with Marlene Dietrich (29 minutes, in Swedish and English)
1935: THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN (1935)
------ “If It Isn’t Pain, Then It Isn’t Love”, song by Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger, cut from the film by the censor (audio only, no subtitles unfortunately).
THE BLUE ANGEL (1930)
‘Morocco’ was actually the second collaboration between Marlene Dietrich and Josef von Sternberg.
Josef Sternberg was an American director (he added the “von” when he got to Hollywood)
His parents brought him to this country from Austria when he was a child, and he grew up speaking German and English.
Paramount sent him to Germany in 1929 to scout for new talent.
Marlene Dietrich had already appeared in German silent films, but her big break came when she was “discovered” by von Sternberg.
‘The Blue Angel’ was filmed in Germany in German (‘Der Blaue Engel’) and English versions, both directed by von Sternberg.
The director returned to Hollywood, with Marlene Dietrich close behind.
Kino issued both films in a two-disc DVD set with a lot of extras back in 2001: The Blue Angel ,
but they screwed up the Blu-Ray release.
First Kino issued a single blu-ray of the German version only, with no extras.
After many complaints, they issued a two-disc blu-ray of both versions with most of the extras, but forgot the commentary track: The Blue Angel: Kino Classics 2-Disc Ultimate Edition [Blu-ray ]
To make matters worse, Amazon’s web page is a mess, confusing blu-ray with audio CDs.
If you complain, Amazon will send you an e-mail thanking you for your concern.
Marlene Dietrich’s leading man in ‘Shanghai Express’ is British actor Clive Brook.
Remembered today as the stereotypical stiff upper lip English gentleman, which is the role he plays in ‘Shanghai Express’ (1932).
This was Brook’s second film appearance for director Josef von Sternberg.
Surprisingly, Clive Brook played a Chicago gangster in von Sternberg’s 1927 silent film, ‘Underworld’.
It was the director’s first hit film, and is generally regarded as the first of the modern gangster films
Clive Brook plays an alcoholic lawyer who becomes a homeless bum.
Mob boss George Bancroft takes an interest in him (PHOTO 8).
Brook dries out, cleans himself up and becomes a lawyer for the Chicago mob.
In the sound era, Clive Brook could have rivaled Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney if it wasn’t for that pesky accent.
‘Underworld” was issued by Criterion in a three DVD box of Sternberg’s silent films back in 2010: Three Silent Classics by Josef Von Sternberg (Underworld / Last Command / Docks of New York) (The Criterion Collection)
Unfortunately, it is now out-of-print and hopelessly expensive.
Maybe Criterion can be persuaded to reissue it on Blu-Ray.
Available on You Tube - see Comment One.
For more about von Sternberg's pre-Dietrich career, see Comment One (sort by "Oldest")
And now, why you're here - the transfers. Morocco is one of my favorite films of all time for a whole slew of reasons. The original nitrate negatives to all these films were - try not to vomit - junked years ago, so we only have generations-away elements and Criterion has done a great job with them but they are what they are. Morocco being the least of them - that said, it looks fine and if you don't know what it could look like you'll be none the worse for it. All the atmosphere is there in spades - Miss Dietrich's two musical numbers are fantastic, and Cooper - well, lanky and impossibly handsome and charming - you know exactly why Miss Dietrich does what she does at the end of the film. And props to Adolphe Menjou, who is excellent and oddly touching.
The rest of the transfers fare better and look really good (again, Morocco is fine, just not AS good). My favorite of these films is the divinely wacky Blonde Venus, which has one of the most outrageous musical numbers ever committed to film in Hot Voodoo. I'm sure someone somewhere will be "triggered" by it. Oh, well. The transfer of this looks terrific to my eyeballs.
Dishonored is generally considered the least of these films but I've always liked it a lot. Shanghai Express - again, it's like nothing you've ever seen and is utterly and absolutely fantastic and looks pretty great. The Scarlett Empress - amazing - Sam Jaffe - amazing. A must see. And Devil Is a Woman is, well, like nothing you've ever seen. And Dietrich? They don't make 'em like her anymore, and that is NOT a good thing.
Bottom line: If you call yourself a lover of film, if you like the outre, if you are tired of the word "visionary" being used for all of today's terrible directors who make one film and are suddenly "visionary filmmaker" - here is your chance to see what a really singular vision is.
Now, if the Blu-ray gods really want to make me happy, find a great element and give us the finest non-Dietrich Von Sternberg - The Shanghai Gesture. Talk about a movie that would "trigger" just about everyone...
Meanwhile, this is half-price - grab it while you can. You can thank me later.
EDIT: Well, gee whiz, Amazon - I'm shunted over here to the side despite being the first review? That's how you treat first responders? I gotta tell you. Anyway, a bit more detail on the transfers. Morocco is indeed the weakest. Dishonored looks fantastic, and Shanghai Express looks even better. Blonde Venus doesn't quite have the luster of Dishonored or Shanghai Express, but it's a film with many more of von Sternberg's beloved dissolves so many more opticals in this one - it looks much better than any previous transfer, however, and some of it glows beautifully. Scarlett Empress - very impressive transfer - very grainy opticals, but boy does it have some beautiful contrast and detail.