I cannot get enough of Marlene Dietrich. She stands out in cinematic history not only because of her talent but because of her unique look, her wise collaborations and a bewildering sexiness.
The German actress got her start in short silent flicks in that country and worked on the stage as well, with her long legs getting much attention. People often think her first picture was The Blue Angel, but that suggestion, created by Dietrich herself, was either one meant to add to her legend or a misinterpretation (she might have meant her first movie that mattered).
She was married and had a child while becoming a big deal in the German cinemas, and it was her performance in The Blue Angel that led Hollywood to seek her and her corresponding director, Joseph von Sternberg. The duo made seven films together for Paramount in their early years in America, most of them stellar pieces of art (see Shanghai Express, Morocco, The Scarlet Empress).
Von Sternberg knew how to physically use Dietrich to the best extent, and she too learned that angling her face upward while lit from directly above cast the best shadows that turned her face into an eye-catching enigma. Part of the false Dietrich legend suggests she had her face surgically altered on arrival to Hollywood to make her cheekbones more prominent. Those cheekbones are part of the look that screams sexy for a face that otherwise does not suggest a great beauty.
Dietrich’s move to America came well before that of her family. Although she never divorced her husband, they spent most of their marriage separated.
The actress’ sultry German accent and (frankly) bit of a speech impediment never hindered her in playing wildly diverse roles. She appeared in a couple westerns and played a gypsy in Touch of Evil.
Dietrich could play in comedies, and make fun of herself, but she was at her best in dramas. An abundance of strong scripts helped to pave her career with magnificent pictures, many of which will never be forgotten.