It is no secret on this blog that I love Marlene Dietrich. She may not be everybody’s cup of tea but she is mine and I will drink that tea no matter what she is in. But it helps when she is in a movie that is directed by someone who knows what they have. Josef von Sternberg was that director for Marlene. While she produced great stuff with other directors, nothing matches the vibrant sheen of von Sternberg’s work. The Devil is a Woman was their seventh collaboration and they seem to have gotten it just perfect with this one. (There is no suspense here: I love this movie!)
Antonio Galvan is running away from the Spanish government when comes across a Carnivale in small town. He joins the festivities and sees a young woman in a settee, Concha. He is immediately smitten and determines to stay in town until he can see her again. While he is waiting at a cafe, an old friend comes up to him and chastises him for being out in the open. This old friend is Capt. Don Pasqual Costelar (He is called Pasqualito by Concha). Once he realizes it is for Concha, he tells the story about how he fell in love her long ago and it ruined his reputation. He tells him about her swindling him, running off with various young lovers, and disappearing for long periods of time only to reappear in a night club. He is clearly still smitten with her, but desirous to be rid of her once and for all. Antonio hears this story and gets upset at this woman. He arrives at the appointed time and place, only to berate Concha for the mistreatment of his friend. Of course Concha puts her charm on him and they go to a room in a hotel and drink champagne. While they are in the middle of sexual innuendoing all over the place, Pasqualito shows up raging mad at his friend. He challenges Antonio to a duel the next morning. Once friends, they are now enemies because of some crazy hot chick. This will not end well…
Unlike the last Marlene Dietrich movie I reviewed, this movie is unafraid of Marlene being an outright vamp all of the time. She purrs, squeals, and flutters her fan all while manipulating every single man who comes into her path. The best part of the movie is that she does not deny that she manipulates men. When Antonio chastises her for breaking the heart of his friend, she basically says that he has to be more specific. Marlene dominates every scene she is in with her vivaciousness and her beauty.
The camera was made to look at her and the lighting was made to shine on her. In fact the cinematography and set design were probably the best I have seen in a while. The movie takes place in a small town in Spain and it feels like it does (although it is obviously a sound stage). There is one scene that I particularly like the lighting and framing of. This scene happens after Pasqualito takes advantage of Concha after all of the sexual buildup. He is regretting defiling her like that. This is manifested not by any words, but by the stance of Pasqualito shaded against an open balcony door with rain falling on top of him. It is a striking shot and the moment that you start to feel sorry for Pasqualito for being a fool. This movie is filled with great shots.
Marlene Dietrich is a feminist role model for many reasons, one of which is being able to play this type of character as her own person. She isn’t just a vixen. She is a well-rounded character that loves, feels and will ultimately do the right thing. I’m so happy that she was able to save this film from being lost after the studio destroyed the negative at the request of the Spanish government.