“I am a soldier — but you bring something into war that doesn’t belong in it. You trick men into death with your body.”
The head of the Austrian Secret Service (Gustav von Seyffertitz) enlists a prostitute (Marlene Dietrich) to serve as a spy against the Russians, and successfully corners a man (Warner Oland) she’s seduced at a masked ball — but she may have met her match when she falls for her next prey, wily Colonel Kranau (Victor McLaglen).
Josef von Sternberg’s third collaboration with Marlene Dietrich remains a surprisingly effective “Mata Hari”-like spy thriller, one which allows sexy Dietrich to put all her unique attributes — including passionate piano playing — to use for the love of her country (though there’s also a highly enjoyable sequence in which she boldly goes without make-up as a peasant girl!). For the most part, she’s dressed in an array of stylish outfits, and is filmed in typically gorgeous lighting. I’m less-than-enthused with the miscasting of McLaglen as the source of her downfall, but Dietrich more than carries the film on her own shoulders, proving once again that she can hold her own in a male-dominated world. This one is worth a one-time look.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Marlene Dietrich as “X27”
- Lee Garmes’ atmospheric cinematography
- Effective use of piano playing as a character trait and plot device
Yes, once, as a finely crafted entry in the von Sternberg-Dietrich oeuvre. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.