The Blue Angel ★★★½

The oppressively bleak odyssey of a deeply insecure, lonely college professor (Emil Jannings, all but directly revising his role from The Last Laugh as a slightly more upper-crust figure) who falls in love with a stripper and sees humiliation as his entire life is subsumed in the hell that results. As ever, Josef von Sternberg has an intoxicating feel for locations, and he manages to bypass the tame nature of what we actually see in the Blue Angel club to make it feel like the seediest, steamiest spot on earth just by lighting it correctly. Lurid and slow-moving, the film is superb as an introduction to Marlene Dietrich's magnetism (she sings her signature, "Falling in Love Again") but it's also dismaying to watch a film that hashes out such a boring line of thought about desire and lust leading to ruin. Jannings rides the same descent into the pathetic as he did in The Last Command, but he seems much less familiar or sympathetic here because our only real evidence of his inner life is his rotten behavior toward other people, which makes it hard not to relate more to his temporarily beloved Lola's utter exasperation with him. It's a technically stunning film, but its story is much more hollow than those the director told in Hollywood a few years earlier.