films seen
average score
Alive and kicking


Shanghai Express

1932 / 82m - USA
Crime, Romance
Shanghai Express poster

Marlene Dietrich, the movie. Shanghai Express is a rather short film, without a clear genre or story. Things are happening alright, but there seems to be very little intrigue, nor a real goal the film is working towards. It almost felt like a slice-of-life drama, only within the crime/romance genre. The only constant here is Dietrich.

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Shanghai Lily is infamous, a lady with a mysterious reputation. She boards a train to Shanghai, together with a bunch of other people, among which an old friend and lover. They're all intrigued by Lily, though not everyone is charmed by her. Halfway there, the train is held up by a group of rebels.

The plot seems solid enough, but Lily's character isn't all that interesting, and the robbery feels almost like a secondary event. The finale is also bland, but at least the runtime is short and the pacing decent. And von Sternberg definitely had a thing for Dietrich, he simply couldn't keep his camera off of her. I'd almost forget Anny May Wong was in this too, though her role is almost negligible.


1930 / 92m - USA
Morocco poster

A classic romance. The main appeal is supposed to come from the "exotic" location I guess (at least, that's what the title suggests), but the fuzzy black and white cinematography isn't ideal for that. What remains is a pretty basic and predictable romance, not something I'm particularly fond of.

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Amy is an older cabaret singer who decides to try her luck elsewhere. When she arrives in Morocco, she feels attracted to Tom, a member of the French foreign legion. The two go well together, but Tom feels threatened by Kennington, a wealthy man also gunning for Amy's hand.

There are some nice shots here, and the performances are decent, but not enough to make me care for the characters, nor their romantic problems. I'm sure it's a film that will sit well with fans of classic romances, it's certainly not too long or dragged out, it just wasn't all that interesting.

The Blue Angel

Der Blaue Engel
1930 / 104m - Germany
Drama, Music
The Blue Angel poster

One of Marlene Dietrich's most prestigious German films. I don't think I had seen a film with her before, can't say I'm terribly impressed with her performance here. She's certainly not the most alluring burlesque dancer ever caught on film, and that's about the entire point of her character.

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The central romance is pretty iffy. A poorly aged professor tries to keep his students away from the Blue Angel, a local burlesque bar. But when he ventures in himself, he falls in love with the top girl there, who inexplicably falls for him too. It's one of the worst couples in film history, but clearly that didn't bother von Sternberg.

The musical acts aren't great and the drama/romance lacks subtlety, but the burlesque setting is rather fun and the mood is quite light, at least during the first hour or so. It doesn't redeem the film, but it makes it a bit easier to sit through. Far from great, but I don't think the film really aspired to be great either.

The Scarlet Empress

1934 / 104m - USA
Drama, Romance
The Scarlet Empress poster

A classic Dietrich film. She may have been a striking actress in her time, but her taste in films hasn't really convinced me yet. The Scarlet Empress is a pretty gaudy, sentimental drama that lives somewhere between silent cinema and the early talkies, failing to find a good balance.

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Catherine, a young German princess, is forced to wed Peter, heir to the Russian throne. She reluctantly accepts her fate, but she vigilantly refuses to bear his child. When Russia finds itself in a conflict with Poland, Catherine sees her chance to get rid of Peter and seize control over the throne.

The cinematography has its moments, but the soundtrack is a real mood killer, and the acting is pretty terrible, relying on expressiveness as if Sternberg was still making silents. The plot isn't too interesting either unless you're interested in Russian history. Not my kind of film.


1927 / 80m - USA
Crime, Thriller
Underworld poster

Another mother of all gangster films. There seem to be a couple of films around were given that badge of honor, I usually come to a very similar conclusion watching them: I'm not a huge fan of classic gangster films, so I'm not really all that impressed with the early blueprint of those films.

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Underworld serves a very basic rise and fall story of Weed, your typical gangster. Together with his buddy Wensel he slowly rises to the top, until he gets caught in a feud with Mulligan. Mulligan ends up dead, Weed ends up in prison. Wensel is tasked to get Weed out, but he has fallen for Weed's girlfriend, which puts him in a difficult position.

Even though Underworld is a true silent, it already feels pretty focused on the narrative. Maybe it just comes with the genre? The cinematography was pretty bland, the score forgettable and the performances rather basic. The plot is a real bore and even though the film is quite short, having seen a trillion versions of this story already makes the 80-minute runtime at least 40 too long.