The Blue Angel is a desperate, emotionally unrelenting portrait of a man whose consuming love for a cold, manipulative woman leads to moral descent and ruin. Dr. Immanuel Rath (Emil Jannings), is a repressed, middle-aged high school professor who decides to confront Lola Lola (Marlene Dietrich), a cabaret singer, about her “bewitching” of his students. He is captivated by the sensual, carefree Lola Lola, and continues to return to the Blue Angel to be with her. Soon, he is the object of ridicule, and, in an attempt to protect her honor, marries her. We next see Professor Rath several years later, where unemployment and humiliation have taken their toll on the once dignified teacher. He is disheveled and broken, hypocritically selling provocative pictures of his wife to the cabaret patrons (an act he earlier promised would never happen while he is with her). He is subjected to increasingly degrading circumstances, culminating in a pathetic clown act in front of his former colleagues and students. The Blue Angel is a devastating film about the cruelty of love…and fate.
Josef von Sternberg’s use of stark, hyperbolic imagery to symbolize moral degradation is derived from the German expressionist cinema. Note the two scenes where Professor Rath crows like a rooster: one, an attempt at humor, the other, a cry of despair. Both scenes suggest his subservience and debasement at the hands of the seductress. Most of the scenes occur at night and in cabarets, emphasizing the dark, sordidness of his situation. From a historical perspective, The Blue Angel was filmed during the Weimar Republic when the German government, caught in a stranglehold over war reparations, was on the verge of collapse. The film echoes the cynicism and hopelessness of the times. As a result, the story is extremely caustic and unforgiving: the desperate voice of a country in turmoil.
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