Saturday, August 04, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Angel (1937) at UCLA

It was back to Westwood tonight for another double bill in UCLA's current Ernst Lubitsch retrospective.

The evening began with the classic TROUBLE IN PARADISE (1932) starring Herbert Marshall, Miriam Hopkins, and Kay Francis. I first watched it on DVD in 2008 and just saw it at UCLA last year in the 2017 UCLA Festival of Preservation.

TROUBLE IN PARADISE is a film which really can't be seen too many times. It's lighter than air and somehow just gets funnier with additional viewings. Marshall is elegance personified, Hopkins is an amusing spitfire, and Francis is a gorgeous delight in her Travis Banton gowns. (I had to giggle when she said "terrible police" near the end, as the actress's well-known trouble with the letter "R" was quite apparent!) TROUBLE IN PARADISE is the very essence of "the Lubitsch touch" and is highly recommended.

I had never seen ANGEL (1937), which again stars Marshall, along with Marlene Dietrich and Melvyn Douglas. Douglas, of course, would later star in Lubitsch's classic NINOTCHKA (1939).

In fact, it's rather interesting that in ANGEL, just as in NINOTCHKA, Douglas falls in love with a Russian woman in Paris. In this case the woman, Maria (Dietrich) is the wife of British diplomat Sir Frederick Barker (Marshall), who loves his wife but is preoccupied with matters of state. Somehow trying to prevent WWII keeps taking precedence over spending time with his wife!

When the bored Maria goes to Paris and visits an old Russian friend, Grand Duchess Anna (Laura Hope Crews), she chances to meet Anthony Halton (Douglas), who falls in love with her on the spot. She's also attracted to him but refuses to divulge her name, so he calls her "Angel."

"Angel" disappears at the end of her evening with Anthony and goes home to her husband...who then happens to reunite with a one-time army acquaintance from WWI -- Anthony! When Anthony visits the Barkers, he and Maria are shocked to be reunited but don't let on to Frederick initially that they have previously met. Ultimately Maria must decide between her love for her husband or the grand passion of a romance with Anthony.

ANGEL is an exceptionally gorgeous film, photographed by Charles Lang; like TROUBLE IN PARADISE, it was screened at UCLA in 35mm, and the frequent close-ups of Dietrich, Marshall, and Douglas were breathtaking.

The movie itself was pleasant, more of a romantic melodrama than a comedy, though humor is provided by Edward Everett Horton and Ernest Cossart as the Barkers' servants. ANGEL gets pretty talky, and the film's 91 minutes go on longer than they should.

Some of Lubitsch's choices were interesting and even disappointing; for instance, in the moment when Anthony first sees a photograph of Frederick's wife, the camera stays on Frederick, there's not even a sound effect letting us know Anthony's reaction. Lubitsch was apparently going for subtlety but it feels a bit as though the audience is robbed.

That said, I was amused by the following luncheon scene where we don't see the actors, but their plates as they come back to the kitchen. Frederick's plate is empty, but the plates of the shocked Maria and Anthony are still full.

All in all, though not in the same league as the director's great comedies, ANGEL is a worthwhile film which I'll watch again, and it's especially notable as a sumptuous visual feast.

ANGEL is available on DVD in the four-film set Universal Hollywood Icons Collection: Marlene Dietrich or as a single-title release in the Universal Vault series. It also had a 1994 release on VHS.

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