Joshua Reviews Josef Von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel [Blu-ray Review]

Now firmly into December, the holiday season is in full effect, and while many gifts have likely been purchased, companies are hoping like Hell that you, and everyone else, have waited to finalize your gift giving slate this year. One of these companies, Kino, have decided not only to give us various home video releases this month, but a handful of releases that make any cinephile’s mouth water just from the sheer mention of them.

One of these films happens to be from a director not only firmly entrenched in the minds of The Criterion Collection, but considered by many to be one of the best of his generation.

Kino has released their brand new Blu-ray of Josef von Sternberg masterpiece, The Blue Angel, and it’s impeccable.

A film originally shot in both German and English, the German version of the film has recently been restored by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung from archival 35mm elements, and while it may not seem like this release has much in the way of supplemental material, the transfer (both audibly and visually) makes this one title to hunt down this holiday season.

The Blue Angel introduces us to Immanuel Rath (Emil Jannings), a teacher at a local prep school in Germany, and a man who begins to fall head over heels for the cabaret star, Lola-Lola (Marlene Dietrich). After spending a night with the dancer, his life is turned upside down, not only finding him losing his job but also finding himself newly married to the star. Featuring two career-defining performances from both Jannings and Dietrich, this film is not only a fantastic example of early sound filmmaking, but this is one of this holiday season’s best transfers.

There is actually a third star of this film, one that may very well take the spotlight from both of his actors. Director Josef von Sternberg (best known for this, and films like The Scarlet Empress) is at the top of his game behind the camera here, proving that he may be the best example of just the right filmmaker working at the right point in cinema history. With luscious black and white photography lacing this film with an impressionistic sense of style, Sternberg’s use of light and shadow gives this film a distinct sense of brood and atmosphere that is unlike anything we have today. Truly a film about a torrid affair and its downfall, The Blue Angel is one of the more thought provoking pictures of early sound German cinema and also one of its most visually impressive.

Performance wise, the film is equally superb. Jannings is a revelation here, portraying what von Sternberg would later describe as the ‘downfall of an enamored man’ with a sense of pain and realism that is utterly heartbreaking. His first sound film, the pair re-team here after The Last Command, and they bring out the absolute best in both. Known as the film that introduced the stunning Marlene Dietrich to the general populace, her performance is breathtaking. At the time pushing the limits of sexuality on screen, her performance is as scorching as ever, filled with such beauty as well as such a deep sense of melancholy that holds throughout the film itself. Both performances are fantastic, particularly during the numerous musical sequences, where this film, and its leading lady, truly shine.

Released in 1930, the film has some age on its legs, but with the new restoration from Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murau-Stiftung, it looks as good as new. The film thrives during its more expressive moments, be it a sequence of a man being accosted by some friends in a bedroom or the lavish musical numbers, the black and white photography looks breathtaking. Audibly, the film is also top notch. A film involving a cabaret singer, the film really thrills during its performance set pieces, and this transfer proves that fact. Supplement wise, the films sadly lacks any extra material. The artwork here is fine, but some sort of commentary or restoration footage would have been some must-buy icing on this already thrilling cake.

With this release, Kino proves that while their releases may not be the densest of releases, their transfers are done with such tender love and care that their home video releases become must buy simply for the audio and visual quality. Their Blu-ray of The Blue Angel is no different. Any cinephile would kill to find this in their stocking this Christmas.

The Blue Angel is now available on Blu-ray from Kino. Purchase at Amazon.

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