This is the last entry I will be making in an unofficial marathon of minor Marlene Dietrich movies. This movie is the latest in the box set I was working through and it is the most gaudy. At this point in movie history, it seemed like Hollywood had run out of interesting projects for Marlene. She will only act in twelve more movies after this one and each one of those entries are grandiose prestige pictures (except for maybe Touch of Evil, but this movie has since gathered the prestige title although it may not have had it upon release). She had transitioned from small but interesting movies into dull and loaded A pictures. No wonder she decided to pursue a cabaret career more heavily after this movie.
The story line of Golden Earrings is bloated and full of schtick. Marlene Dietrich is Lydia a strange gypsy woman (who wears an odd tan throughout the whole movie). She stumbles upon a fleeing English-American spy in the wilds of Germany on the eve of World War II. Ray Milland plays this English-American spy with a grandiose overacting befitting the character. He assimilates into the gypsy community in order to hide out from those villainous Nazis. (This assimilation includes rubbing a tanning lotion onto Milland’s skin to make him appear darker… Don’t worry. It’s not technically dark face, more like brown face.) The spy must get to a certain place by a certain time in order to meet up with his partner. While we wait for him to journey towards this destination we are bombarded by gypsy customs and petty scenes of Lydia and the spy fighting that culminate in a new-found respect for each other. Finally the spy gets to his destination and meet up with his partner, but his gypsy days aren’t quite done yet. He must disguise himself as a gypsy fortune-teller tin order to gain access to a scientist’s home and get him to reveal damaging secrets. Although the spy was reluctant, he completely accepted the gypsy ethos and way of living but only for a time period that was convenient to him.
As per usual, Dietrich was the best part of this movie. She is playing against type here which is actually pretty refreshing. Instead of an elegant vamp, she is a spitting and swearing ruffian made to look like she lives off the land almost exclusively. She is able to bring a vibrant child like wonder to the role that I don’t think is exactly written into the script. However, everything else around her fails to live up to her performance. The story is flimsy and full of inaction. Ray Milland doesn’t fully commit to the ludicrous story in places but is still able to overact every single line to the point that it is distracting and not in a good way. The villains are never made concrete. Using Nazi officers as an easy cop-out for a villainous threat isn’t enough and is way over used even back then. The gypsy world is a cardboard cutout of vague rituals and overt polygamy that never paints a complete picture of the world we are entering. Basically this is a bloated costume drama set in an odd place. Only see this movie if you are interested in Dietrich’s performance. You will not learn anything else or really be entertained by anything else in this movie.