Josef von Sternberg (1931) 91 mins – Unclassified 15 +
Based on the legendary exploits of Mata Hari, Sternberg’s extravagant re-imagining of his native Vienna during World War I is a delirious but grounded mixture of irreverent historicism and romantic melodrama. One of the director’s greatest works, it features a piercingly nonchalant performance by Dietrich as an alluring sex worker and spy who betrays her country for love. This brilliantly designed and costumed (by Travis Banton) espionage tale provides a lucid portrait of a woman forced to use her sexuality in a hostile patriarchal world. Co-stars Victor McLaglen.
Dishonoured by Tamara Tracz.
Frank Borzage (1936) 95 mins – G
Borzage’s elegant, streamlined romantic comedy in the style of Lubitsch (who co-produced) translates the latter’s sophisticated worldliness into a characteristically soulful romanticism. Dietrich stars as the vivacious, cultured jewel thief who cons a naïve automotive engineer (Gary Cooper) into smuggling a necklace from France into Spain, only for love to blossom despite their moral differences. As in many of Dietrich’s greatest performances, costume, décor, gesture and the play of light take starring roles.
Ernst Lubitsch (1937) 91 mins – Unclassified 15 +
Dietrich plays the disaffected wife of a British diplomat (Herbert Marshall) who flies to Paris for the night to visit the “salon” of a Russian duchess. There she meets and falls for an attractive stranger (Melvyn Douglas) who gives her the codename “Angel”. Regarded as a significant failure on release, it has emerged as one of Lubitsch and Dietrich’s most sophisticated, penetrating and underrated works. An extraordinarily elegant and incisive portrait of the entanglements of love and sexual attraction, it is also a fascinating document of old Europe teetering on the cusp of war.
8:15pm DESTRY RIDES AGAIN
George Marshall (1939) 97 mins – PG
Borrowing the title but little else from Max Brand’s novel, Marshall offers a comically subversive western with striking views on gun violence and the place of women in the genre, perhaps courtesy of one-time communist Gertrude Purcell sharing script duty. Dietrich plays a chanteuse caught between Brian Donlevy’s ruthless boss and a new sheriff – James Stewart in one of his most shrewdly guileless performances – who proves not quite as acquiescent as he’s supposed to be. Marlene’s memorable barroom fight with Una Merkel caused some consternation in its day.
For our first screening of 2021, we are thrilled to welcome you back where we left off: the final program of our luminous Marlene Dietrich season. Prior to having to close in mid-March 2020, the first two weeks of this season saw record numbers attending the screenings and celebrating the work of one of cinema’s great icons.
Combining one of Dietrich’s most fascinating and imperious roles as a ‘survivor’ in post-war Berlin (A Foreign Affair) with her fascinating early performance in I Kiss Your Hand, Madame, this program exemplifies the Melbourne Cinémathèque’s mission to present celebrated and less well-known works of film history in both their original format and in new restorations.
Our opening night also ushers in our spotlight on the razor-sharp world of seminal writer-director Billy Wilder over the coming weeks. Beyond this, look out for more highlights from our 2020 calendar: seasons focused on actor Dirk Bogarde and Australian director Gillian Armstrong.