Sunday, May 17, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Angel (1937) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Marlene Dietrich stars in ANGEL (1937), just released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

I first saw this visually gorgeous film, which costars Herbert Marshall and Melvyn Douglas, as part of a 2018 Ernst Lubitsch retrospective at UCLA.

The retrospective was inspired by the publication of the book HOW DID LUBITSCH DO IT? by film historian Joseph McBride.

McBride provided the informative audio commentary for Kino Lorber's Blu-ray, which is a beautiful print from a brand-new 4K master. The Blu-ray spectacularly shows off the film's greatest attribute, Charles Lang's glorious black and white photography of a trio of gorgeous stars.

The film concerns Maria (Dietrich), a Russian expatriate living in England who is married to British diplomat Sir Frederick Barker (Marshall).

Sir Frederick is constantly busy with matters of state, so the bored Maria briefly hops over to Paris, where she meets Anthony Halton (Douglas) at the home of an old acquaintance. Anthony and Maria -- who only gives her name as "Angel" -- enjoy a romantic evening together, but then she goes home to her loving if distracted husband.

Imagine Maria's surprise when Sir Frederick is later visited by an old friend from his army days -- Anthony.

Despite Lubitsch's presence as director, the film is more serious than his norm; in his commentary McBride refers to the film as a "light drama," which seems apt. Indeed, I referred to it myself as a "romantic melodrama" after my first viewing.

That said, there are some delightfully funny bits, with a sequence tracking the actors' lunch plates after Anthony's surprise appearance just as funny on second viewing. There are also some rib-tickling moments provided by Ernest Cossart, Edward Everett Horton, and Leonard Carey as servants.

I found the film grew on me more with further acquaintance; it runs a little too long at 91 minutes, yet the movie provides such pure visual pleasure that I quite enjoyed revisiting it. As with Gary Cooper and Madeleine Carroll in the recently watched THE GENERAL DIED AT DAWN (1936), there's a great deal to be said for knockout '30s movie star power filmed in shimmering black and white.

I found the overall film more satisfying this time around, enjoying the richly detailed performances of all three actors and the excellent dialogue. Samson Rafaelson's screenplay was based on a play by Hungarian writer Melchior Lengyel, which in turn had become an English language play by Guy Bolton and Russell Medcraft.

I also quite enjoyed McBride's detailed, informative commentary track; he touches on a wide variety of topics related to Lubitsch and the cast, while also providing critical insight into some of the scenes. The entire Blu-ray package, including the excellent print, is such that I definitely recommend it for fans of Lubitsch and the cast; while it may not be the very best from these filmmakers, it's still really quite good.

In addition to McBride's commentary, the Kino Lorber Blu-ray includes a gallery of trailers for eight Marlene Dietrich films which are also available from Kino Lorber.

Along those lines, I'd like to note that I've enjoyed a number of Dietrich films in the last few months thanks to Kino Lorber, including THE FLAME OF NEW ORLEANS (1941), THE SPOILERS (1942), PITTSBURGH (1942), and A FOREIGN AFFAIR (1948). I particularly liked THE SPOILERS, which I found to be a rollicking good time costarring John Wayne and Randolph Scott, but all of the films combined to give me a greater appreciation for a very distinctive actress.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


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