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TCM Star of the Month for May is Marlene Dietrich
Marlene Dietrich, in a career that spanned eight decades, moved from the cabarets and silent films of 1920s Berlin to international stardom in the movies of Josef von Sternberg and, finally, to a pinnacle of fame as a concert performer of immaculate glamour. Along the way she maintained her reputation as a shimmering beauty with sparkling wit as well as an often-compelling actress.
You can learn more about her and see her complete filmography here.
20 films, Thursday nights in May. Beginning May 10th.
** Denotes our must-see picks
The Blue Angel (1930) with Emil Jannings
A stodgy professor falls from grace when he’s seduced by a nightclub singer.
The version shown on TCM this month is the full-length German-language version, distributed by Kino International and licensed from the Murnau Foundation in Germany. A new print was struck from the best surviving materials and a new translation of the dialogue was commissioned.
The Scarlett Empress (1934) with John Lodge
A highly fictionalized biopic of the German-born Russian empress Catherine the Great, the film’s screenplay by Manuel Komroff was supposedly based on Catherine’s diary
Shanghai Express (1932) with Warner Oland **
A beautiful temptress re-kindles an old romance while trying to escape her past during a tension-packed train journey.
The most beautiful and exotic of von Sternberg’s creations
A sultry cabaret singer falls hard for a Foreign Legionnaire.
Director Josef von Sternberg’s first American film.
A nightclub singer gives in to a rich playboy to finance her husband’s medical treatment.
The picture is notable for other reasons, too: It’s fun to watch Dietrich playing the role of a mother, and considering how hypnotically aloof and elegant an on-screen presence she could be, she’s surprisingly good at it.
A deputy who’s sworn not to shoot again takes on a corrupt town boss and a sultry saloon singer.
Angel (1937) with Melvyn Douglas
While vacationing without her husband, a married woman falls for another man.
Considered one of director Lubitsch’s and star Dietrich’s most underrated efforts
The Devil Is a Woman (1935) with Lionel Atwill
A member of the Spanish guard falls for a temptress who once ruined his commanding officer’s life.
For many years, it was believed that The Devil Is a Woman was indeed a lost film until von Sternberg’s personal copy turned up for a revival screening at the 1959 Venice Film Festival.
Desire (1936) with Gary Cooper
Before they can marry, two society types run off with lower-class loves.
For Marlene Dietrich, Desire marked a significant break from the increasingly remote and stylized worlds of Josef von Sternberg’s films and a demonstration of her ability to stand on her own as a star after the box-office failure of films such as The Scarlet Empress (1934) and The Devil Is a Woman (1935).
Knight Without Armour (1937) with Robert Donat
A British spy tries to get a countess out of the new Soviet Union.
Knight Without Armour (1937) was producer Alexander Korda’s biggest and most expensive movie to date. Everything about it was big — the cast, the budget, the sets and the scope of the story itself, a sweeping romantic adventure set against the Russian Revolution.
A prim Congresswoman gets caught up in the romantic decadence of post-war Germany.
Probably Dietrich’s most controversial film, A Foreign Affair was the first of Wilder’s movies to arouse widespread debate. Some critics thought it was brilliant and sardonic. Others reacted negatively to a comedy about postwar profiteering, and were horrified that the filmmakers considered Nazi war crimes a fit subject for comedy.
The Spoilers (1942) with John Wayne
An Alaskan prospector fights a crooked federal agent for a beautiful saloon singer.
Famous for having one of the longest and most elaborate brawls in film history
Kismet (1944) with Ronald Colman
In the classic Arabian Nights tale, the king of the beggars enters high society to help his daughter marry a handsome prince.
Dietrich has only a small role in Kismet (1944), but her image and her legs helped draw in audiences
Manpower (1941) with Edward G. Robinson
Power linemen feud over the love of a sultry nightclub singer.
Manpower certainly had its share of bad luck. During one scene, Raft’s character strikes Dietrich. Hitting a woman went against everything Raft believed in, but he played the scene nonetheless. Unfortunately, he played it a little too well, accidentally making contact with Dietrich’s face. The blow knocked her down a flight of stairs, breaking the actress’ ankle. Even Raft didn’t make it out of Manpower untouched. He fell 38 feet from a telephone pole and was rushed to the hospital unconscious, in shock and with three broken ribs.
Martin Roumagnac (1946) with Jean Gabin
A small-town building contractor falls for an exotic woman who is visiting the city to seduce a wealthy diplomat.
The Lady Is Willing (1942) with Fred MacMurray
A Broadway star has to find a husband so she can adopt an abandoned child.
For most of her career Dietrich had made it a habit to seduce her leading men and her track record was excellent, which is why she couldn’t understand how MacMurray could be immune to her charms.
Touch of Evil (1958) with Charlton Heston **
A narcotics agent risks his wife’s life to investigate a crooked cop.
The most famous sequence in Touch of Evil was the lengthy tracking shot that opens the film. The three-minute-plus shot opens with an unseen figure planting a bomb in a car, follows the car through the border town’s streets, picks up Heston and wife Janet Leigh as they cross the border and ends as they kiss, and the bomb explodes off-screen.
Witness for the Prosecution (1957) with Tyrone Power **
A British lawyer gets caught up in a couple’s tangled marital affairs when he defends the husband for murder.
Witness for the Prosecution was nominated for six Academy Awards. Charles Laughton was nominated for Best Actor and Elsa Lanchester for Best Supporting Actress. The film was also nominated for Best Picture, Director, Sound, and Editing.
An acting student goes undercover to prove a singing star killed her husband.
One of the Hitchcock’s most underrated and misunderstood films.
Rancho Notorious (1952) with Arthur Kennedy
A cowboy infiltrates a bandit hideout in search of his girlfriend’s killer.
Rancho Notorious establishes an undercurrent of sexual licentiousness that may explain why this genre picture, considered something of a disaster upon its 1952 release, has since become a revered cult classic.
The Monte Carlo Story (1956) with Vittorio De Sica
Two compulsive gamblers fall in love on the French Riviera.
The bulk of the film was shot on location in Monte Carlo’s actual hotels, casinos and restaurants, with only brief shooting later at a movie studio in Rome. Dietrich, an expert in matters of lighting and cinematography, wrote to Riva at the time that the “makeshift lighting” of the Monte Carlo scenes proved more becoming to her than the harsher lights of the studio