Directed by: Josef von Sternberg (Shanghai Express)
Starring: Marlene Dietrich, Herbert Marshall, Cary Grant, Dickie Moore, Rita La Roy, Robert Emmett O'Connor
Any movie that has Marlene Dietrich clamber out of a gorilla suit, don a blonde Afro, and sing “Hot Voodoo” in front of a chorus line of African warrior dancing girls is OK by me—and Josef von Sternberg’s utterly preposterous Blonde Venus (1932) is that movie. I reviewed Blonde Venus a couple of years back—http://www.mountainx.com/movies/review/blonde_venus—and you might want to check that review out for a more detailed look at the film. It’s everything a Sternberg film should be, though it isn’t entirely persuasive as drama, and it certainly lacks the emotional resonance of Shanghai Express (1932). It is, however, a fascinating work that showcases both its star and its director’s obsessions, all within the confines of its weird drama of sacrifice and mother love. The sacrifice starts with Dietrich returning to the stage as “the Blonde Venus” (“Come Early, Stay Late”) in order to pay for husband Herbert Marshall’s treatment for radium poisoning. She then further sacrifices herself by becoming Cary Grant’s mistress (not everyone would consider that a sacrifice), which Marshall doesn’t appreciate for some reason. There’s more, but it really has to be seen to be believed.
The Asheville Film Society will screen Blonde Venus Tuesday, April 12, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther. Hanke is the artistic director of the Asheville Film Society.