Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.
USA, 1935. Paramount Pictures. Screenplay by John Dos Passos, Sam Winston, David Hertz, Oran Schee, based on the novel La Femme et le Pantin by Pierre Louys. Cinematography by Josef von Sternberg. Produced by Josef von Sternberg. Music by John Leipold, Heinz Roemheld. Production Design by Hans Dreier, Josef von Sternberg. Costume Design by Travis Banton. Film Editing by Sam Winston.
Marlene Dietrich plays yet another heartless woman who ruins the life of a good man, and as usual she has a marvelous time doing it. Based on the same novel that would later provide the inspiration for Luis Bunuel’s final film That Obscure Object Of Desire, the film features a very young Cesar Romero as a soldier visiting Spain during a riotous street festival in which the beautiful Concha Perez (Dietrich) is featured. Immediately captivated by her beauty, he is warned off by an ex-soldier (Lionel Atwill) who had to leave the army after being disgraced by her. Atwill proceeds to tell his story of his romance with Concha, how he pulled her out of the life of a factory girl and placed her upon a pedestal, and then she in her ingratitude took advantage of him financially while playing around with other men. Visually it’s a real stunner, with gorgeous cinematography and the lovely leading lady swathed in an endless array of eye-popping gowns by Travis Banton. The story is tepid, however, far too predictable and eventually very tiring, until the finale when the film does something extremely daring by doing the opposite of what movies about ‘bad’ women usually do in disposing with their heroines. Dietrich and director Josef von Sternberg always said this was their favourite of the nine movies they made together (though the rest of us like The Blue Angel or Shanghai Express the best).
The Criterion Collection: #935