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La Dietrich (1 Viewer)

Caproni

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Marlene Dietrich --- affectionately called La Dietrich by fans --- had one of the longest entertainment careers on record.

She started her career on the stage and in the nightclubs of Berlin. She eventually rose to having small roles in a string of low-budget releases overseas. It was director-producer Josef von Sternberg who took her under his wing as a protégé. Together, the two would make up one of the classic screen partnerships. They were recruited by Paramount Pictures in 1930 and brought the the United States. The studio had hopes of fashioning Dietrich as a German alternative to MGM's Swedish sensation Greta Garbo. In fact, some of Dietrich's early American films were supposedly inspired by Garbo's successes. Her first American picture, MOROCCO (1930), resulted in her only Oscar nomination, which cemented her status as a sultry femme fatale. Her film DISHONORED (1931) cast her as Mata Hari-type spy, while BLONDE VENUS (1932), co-starring a young Cary Grant, had her emerging from a gorilla suit in a voodoo inspired musical number.

Dietrich was one of the most popular women in films in the early 1930s. She had a substantial salary, and she and Mae West were often credited for saving Paramount from bankruptcy during the Great Depression. The film SHANGHAI EXPRESS (1932) was the most successful collaboration between Dietrich and von Sternberg. It was the highest-earning film of its year, and was nicknamed "GRAND HOTEL on wheels" by critics. SONG OF SONGS (1933) was the first time Dietrich worked without von Sternberg in America. It was a reasonable success, but Dietrich wanted to continue working with von Sternberg. The duo's final two films together, THE SCARLET EMPRESS (1934) and THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN (1935), the most stylized of their collaborations, were their biggest box office disappointments. The latter film offered the last time Dietrich and von Sternberg worked together. Extravagant offers lured Dietrich away from Paramount to make films elsewhere. She was paid $200,000 to star in THE GARDEN OF ALLAH (1936) for independent producer David O. Selznick, and $450,000 to film KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR (1937) in Great Britain. Although her salary made her the highest-paid woman in cinema, her films of this period were box office flops. She had slid to 126th in box office popularity, and she was dubbed "box office poison" by theater owners in 1938. Paramount subsequently allowed her contract to expire.

In desperate need of a career boost, Dietrich accepted a pay cut to star in DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (1939), a western comedy co-starring a young James Stewart. It was a hit, and shifted her image to a more comedic, western-type saloon girl. She would go on to play similar types in SEVEN SINNERS (1940) and THE SPOILERS (1942), both opposite John Wayne. She spent the majority of World War II working for the USO and entertaining the soldiers overseas, but would occasionally return to film. She received top billing in PITTSBURGH (1942) and allowed her body to be painted gold for KISMET (1944). She famously feuded with leading man Ray Milland during the filming of GOLDEN EARRINGS in 1947. Dietrich worked with a young Jane Wyman on STAGE FRIGHT (1950), a suspense film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The film RANCHO NOTORIOUS (1952) was the last time she played a saloon girl on film, an archetype made anonymous with her name.

Throughout the 1950s, Dietrich's film career took a back seat, while she focused most of her time on perfecting her stage persona. She started touring and performing in sold out performances in nightclubs. She broke records while performing in Las Vegas with her salary and audience totals. Still, Dietrich was frequently lured back to Hollywood, where she would make cameo appearances in AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS (1956) and TOUCH OF EVIL (1958), two of the biggest box office hits of the decade. She even starred with Tyrone Power and Charles Laughton in WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (1957), receiving positive notices a wife asked to testify against her husband. Dietrich had a supporting role as a German widower in JUDGMENT AT NUREMBURG (1961), which featured an ensemble cast and provided her with a role that many deemed Oscar-worthy. It was her last major film appearance. Her final on-screen roles was a cameo in PARIS WHEN IT SIZZLES (1964), a romantic comedy starring Audrey Hepburn and William Holden, and JUST A GIGOLO (1979), the poorly reviewed David Bowie vehicle.

Marlene Dietrich faded out of the spotlight near the end of her life. She had been living quietly for years when she died at age ninety in 1992.

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Caproni

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There is a book I have called HOLLYWOOD COLOR PORTRAITS that references Marlene Dietrich as "The Human Face of Garbo". The analogy isn't inaccurate. Garbo was the unattainable, other-worldly, allusive creature. Dietrich was more attainable, distinctly foreign, but yet somehow more artificial.

Sometimes I prefer Dietrich to Garbo, perhaps because Dietrich had a more diverse and extensive filmography, but I never deny Garbo her place in the Hollywood legend.

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Johnny Angell

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I would add “No Highway in the Sky” to your list of films. Made in the 50’s, I have to wonder if that part allowed her to reflect on her life and career. I prefer to Dietrich to Garbo.
 

Caproni

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I would add “No Highway in the Sky” to your list of films. Made in the 50’s, I have to wonder if that part allowed her to reflect on her life and career. I prefer to Dietrich to Garbo.
I've never seen NO HIGHWAY IN THE SKY, so I skidded over it.

I typically prefer Dietrich over Garbo, too.
 

Angelo Colombus

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SHANGHAI EXPRESS, TOUCH OF EVIL, and WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION are my favorites. Maximilian Schell directed a great documentary released in 1984 called MARLENE with Dietrich talking to Schell off-screen over her film clips.

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Matt Hough

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I've always wanted to see the MARLENE documentary. I need to get it.
She's in a pissy mood through much of the interview, tries to pick fights with Schell about her films (which she mainly disparages), and generally sounds cranky and uncooperative. Her daughter said she was in ill health through much of her later life, and that might have been behind her sour mood, but it makes Marlene something less than an ideal viewing experience if one wants to celebrate her screen achievements.
 

Angelo Colombus

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She's in a pissy mood through much of the interview, tries to pick fights with Schell about her films (which she mainly disparages), and generally sounds cranky and uncooperative. Her daughter said she was in ill health through much of her later life, and that might have been behind her sour mood, but it makes Marlene something less than an ideal viewing experience if one wants to celebrate her screen achievements.
I got the same impression too but it was interesting to hear her thoughts and Maximilian Schell was lucky to have a interview with her.
 

filmnoirguy

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I watched Destry Rides Again for the first time last week. What the heck took me so long! It's a brilliant comedy-western with both Marlene and Jimmy Stewart in fine form. As well as their supporting cast.

In my humble opinion, Dietrich was robbed of an Oscar nod for Witness for the Prosecution.
 

Matt Hough

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I watched Destry Rides Again for the first time last week. What the heck took me so long! It's a brilliant comedy-western with both Marlene and Jimmy Stewart in fine form. As well as their supporting cast.

In my humble opinion, Dietrich was robbed of an Oscar nod for Witness for the Prosecution.
Many people at the time were equally shocked she wasn't nominated, particularly since Laughton and Lanchester were. Dietrich did win the Golden Globe for her performance as I recall.
 

Johnny Angell

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Many people at the time were equally shocked she wasn't nominated, particularly since Laughton and Lanchester were. Dietrich did win the Golden Globe for her performance as I recall.
That’s a shame. She was very good in one of my favorite movies. I do have to admit my two favorites in the film were Charles and Elsa.
 

AshJW

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If you’re talking about Marlene Dietrich’s movies IMO you need to address at least one of her German films. And that’s Der blaue Engel (THE BLUE ANGEL) from 1930.
Without that film she probably would not have been able to take the leap over the big pond.

Directed by Josef von Sternberg, starring Emil Jannings who was already a star, La Dietrich just made a name for herself with that film.
 

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