German director Josef von Sternberg has been working in Hollywood for more than 15 years when he went back Germany, at actor Emil Jannings' request, to direct his first “talkie.” Von Sternberg had directed Jannings in The Last Command, one of the 2 American silent films that had won Jannings an Oscar Award in 1928.
Adapted from Heinrich Mann's famous novel, Professor Unrath, this landmark film deals with the breakdown of authoritarian personality. Jannings plays the inhibited, tyrannical high-school professor who is prudishly indignant about his students visiting Lola Lola (Marlene Dietrich), the sexy singer at the Blue Angel nightclub. He goes to the club to put a stop to it and instead succumbs to her callous sexuality. The pedant man becomes Lola's husband, her slave–and her stooge.
Dietrich's Lola is a rather coarse, plump character; as she sings “Falling in Love Again,” her smoldering voice and sadistic indifference suggest sex without romance, love, or sentiment.
In a career-making performance that made her an international star, Dietrich is extraordinary. Von Sternberg, who was romantically involved with his actress, set in motion the Dietrich myth that was eventually to surpass his own fame as a filmmaker. (The two collaborated on a number of films).
Directed in an expressionistic mode, The Blue Angel has been admired for generations for its imaginative, atmospheric style. The psychosexual humiliation gets very heavy in the scenes in which the professor, now a clown, returns to his hometown and to his old classroom.
In l959, a less successful remake, directed by Edward Dmytryk, starred Curt Jurgens and May Britt.