“I’m no good, you understand? No good at all.”
A German-born nightclub singer (Marlene Dietrich) takes money from a wealthy admirer (Cary Grant) so her husband (Herbert Marshall) can receive a life-saving cure from radiation poisoning — but when Marshall finds out that she had an affair with Grant, she goes on the run with her son (Dickie Moore), trying to eke out a shadowy existence while eluding capture.
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary refers to this pre-Code melodrama as “the most underrated of the seven Josef von Sternberg-Marlene Dietrich collaborations” (all of which are included in his GFTFF). He focuses his review on Dietrich’s performance, noting that she’s “one of the sexiest mothers in the history of the cinema” and “gives one of her finest stiff-upper-lip performances” (he nominates her as one of the best actresses of the year in his Alternate Oscars). Dietrich’s unusual character — a “strong, selfless woman who is willing to sacrifice herself for others’ happiness (even if it means giving her body) and to face the consequences for her sins” — “sees no need to apologize or defend herself to Marshall for what she did on his behalf,” yet also doesn’t “expect him to understand or forgive her”. She’s a highly complex woman, and yet a bit of a feminist cipher: we’re not sure why she falls in love with Marshall and comes with him to America, nor why she so easily commits infidelity while her husband may be on his deathbed. Ultimately, the storyline itself — including a “descent into hell” as Dietrich “winds up sleeping in some bizarre dives, including one place in which hens and chickens run free” — simply emerges as pure melodrama peppered by two highly memorable nightclub performances: one in which Dietrich dons a blonde frizzy wig as “Blonde Venus” while emerging out of a gorilla suit, and a later scene in which she famously wears a white top hat and tails while ogling chorus girls. It’s no wonder this film is a favorite with gay and camp-loving audiences!
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Memorable direction and imagery
- Bert Glennon’s cinematography
Yes, simply for its cult status.