If the fireworks laden credit sequence is anything to go by, this biopic is supposed to be a celebration of the eventful life of screen legend Marlene Dietrich. Which is why it’s so baffling that the makers of this film chose to devote much of its running time to an entirely fictitious love affair.
After a short opening scene in which a mummified Dietrich takes the stage at Carnegie Hall, the film flashes back to 1929 Berlin. There, despite protests from his lead actor and producer, director Joseph von Sternberg selects Dietrich to play the pivotal role of Lola in his film The Blue Angel. Its success leads to a contract with Paramount Studios, but with it comes demands to amend her appearance and behaviour.
Based on a book by her daughter, this biopic has some fun contrasting the social attitudes of Berlin and Hollywood, where Dietrich’s previous unabashed displays of her sexual appetite must be curbed and her husband’s lover masquerades as their daughter’s nanny. One can almost empathise with Dietrich when she yells “God I miss Berlin!”, yet when she returns to Germany the biopic forgoes its grounding in reality and flies off into the realms of melodrama.
Any reading of Dietrich’s biography, her many lovers, her acts of bravery and her strained relationship with her native country, would cause many to scratch their heads and ask “Did she really do that?” Sadly, this film treatment of her life spends too much time on an episode that results in the answer ultimately being... no.
as Marlene Dietrich
as Gary Cooper
as Emil Jannings
as Rudolf Sieber
Carl Seidlitz is a fictional character
"Our film is not a documentary or a pure biographical rendering. Historical inaccuracies were necessary to fulfill my vision… Carl's character represents Marlene's Prussian education, political influence -- and her love for Jean Gabin, at whose death she was said to exclaim, 'I've just become a widow.' Marlene's nephew says, 'It shows the longing my aunt had for love.' The object of that love is secondary."
Although biopic features a recreation of Dietrich’s “I'm beginning to like you” line from Morocco, it places it in a totally different setting. There is also a scene recreation from The Blue Angel as well as some behind the scenes setups.