Country orphan Lily goes to Berlin to stay with her tippling aunt, and soon meets Richard, handsome sculptor across the street. Persuaded half-reluctantly to pose for Richard, her physical charms (shown as fully as 1933 mores permitted) soon melt away his 'strictly business' attitude, and they become lovers.
But Richard, wanting his freedom, connives at her marriage to his wealthy client Baron von Merzbach... whose household includes a jealous former mistress and a susceptible farm manager. Has Richard still a role to play in her life?
Marlene Dietrich ... Lily Czepanek
Brian Aherne ... Richard Waldow
Lionel Atwill ... Baron von Merzbach
Alison Skipworth ... Mrs. Rasmussen
Hardie Albright ... Von Prell
Helen Freeman ... Fräulein Von Schwertfeger
Mamoulian was able to work with three of the most glamorous and lovely actresses of the early 1930s - Garbo, Sten and Dietrich. Here he tells the tale of a peasant girl, Dietrich, who goes to live with her aunt upon the death of her father. Both a penniless sculptor and a lecherous baron have their eye on her. The sculptor (Aherne) romances her but bows out when it comes to marriage. The Baron (Atwill) is accepted on the rebound, but life is not tranquil at the chateau. Of course she manages to be compromised and is thrown out. A hardened woman of the world, she is finally tearfully reunited with the repentant sculptor.
The film is quite glossy and entertaining but all along it is Dietrich who carries it. She is radiantly innocent, childlike, modest and trusting in the beginning, emerging as cynical, hardened and bitter at the end. Anyone who believes Dietrich to be just a beautiful face and not an actress had best visit this film, the first she made without her director mentor, Von Sternberg.
Mamoulian here does not try to impose any clever editing or cinematography, but allows the simple story to unfold, concentrating on his actress and helping her to shine. Other than Dietrich, Atwill comes across best as a
believable, human and not altogether unlikeable character, obsessed with our heroine.
What is most amazing about the pre-Code film are the numerous nude sculptures, primarily of Dietrich, that abound - they are quite beautiful and the lovely cinematography lights them to great effect.
The only fly in the ointment is the wooden performance from Aherne - he would improve with age.
Interesting to see Dietrich, early in her Hollywood career, working with a director other than her Pygmalion, Josef von Sternberg. The latter director provided beautiful but often-static set-ups for framing her, while Mamoulian's musicality and fluid camera release her. (Think also of his direction of Garbo in "Queen Christina," and that film's famous scene in which she moves lovingly and rhythmically--it was timed to a metronome-- around the bedroom, watched by her lover. )
I think this is one of Dietrich's best performances. She passes through many phases, from naive young girl to earthy woman. Her song "Johnny" is sublime--and moving, when she angrily tears into the second chorus after spotting in the audience the lover who had abandoned and disillusioned her.
A romantic potboiler, in which a simple country girl, Lili (Marlene Dietrich) orphaned, goes to the city to stay with her aunt Rasmussen (Alison Skipworth), falls in love with Richard Waldow (Brian Aherne), a sculptor across the street. Her sense of what love could be is based on repeated readings of the Song of Songs, parts of which she recites ecstatically. But Lili marries Baron von Merzbach (Lionel Atwil) who has convinced Waldow he (the baron) can give Lili what he (the sculptor) can't—comfort, luxury, education, music, polish, status. She's steely and still, but a jealous housekeeper engineers a situation that will appear to disgrace her when Waldow is visiting, and Lili walks into the trap to hurt him. He finds her in some sort of a high-toned night spot, takes her back to the studio, she is bitter, insisting she is dead and crying out what right does that (pointing to the statue) have to live while I am dead? She seizes a sledge hammer and breaks the maquette and falls down on the floor among the shards. Waldow picks her up and recites a bit of the Song and she softens, and he says something about a future. Here we get all the Dietrich modes in one packet: the wide-eyed and innocent young girl with a fluting, sweet voice—the passionate woman discovering love—the frozen woman, who has made herself as cold as it is possible to be because nobody can hurt her that way---the cabaret cynic, wreathed in smoke, singing a slightly bawdy song with an arch, knowing look—the tear-filled eyes of the thawing woman surprised by hope. All clichés of the first order, but she does them well, and that's what they paid her to do. She only sings one song here, and it sounds very much like something leaning in the direction of Weill & Brecht, a sweet melody lurching into some jazzy discordant moments.