Blond Venus (1932)

Viewed March 25th


A beautiful woman sacrifices to help her husband and is then betrayed by him.

Blonde Venus has a ridiculous melodrama scenario: Marlene Dietrich marries the British scientist who peeped on her while she was swimming nude with six other actresses. Then, after the scientist is diagnosed with radiation poisoning, he takes Dietrich's money, abandons her and their son, and goes abroad to seek medical treatment. Dietrich is then forced to become a nightclub dancer in order to pay the bills and support the son. When the husband returns from his treatment, he's scandalized by the fact that his wife has become a dancer and forbids her to see the son. In the end, though, everything is resolved. What makes it all even more ridiculous is that never once do we ever see Marlene Dietrich as a viable mother; she only makes sense when she's away from the kid. It's only then that she becomes (in both the story of the film and the experience of watching the film) a star. The racist gorilla dance scene and the cross-dressing dance scene--these are movie moments that will, despite or perhaps because of their incendiary qualities, etch themselves into your mind. When Dietrich and Cary Grant, whom she meets through the nightclub world, are framed together in a close shot, there's so much cinematic surplus it feels like the whole thing will burst. Luckily, the scenes of domestic life, despite their absurdity, are filmed so dreamily by director Josef von Sternberg that it all somehow works as a type of film poem that doesn't exist anymore.