Any movie that has Marlene Dietrich clamber out of a gorilla suit, don a blonde Afro, and sing “Hot Voodoo” in front of a chorus line of African warrior dancing girls is OK by me—and Josef von Sternberg’s utterly preposterous Blonde Venus (1932) is that movie. I reviewed Blonde Venus a couple of years back—http://www.mountainx.com/movies/review/blonde_venus—and you might want to check that review out for a more detailed look at the film. It’s everything a Sternberg film should be, though it isn’t entirely persuasive as drama, and it certainly lacks the emotional resonance of Shanghai Express (1932). It is, however, a fascinating work that showcases both its star and its director’s obsessions, all within the confines of its weird drama of sacrifice and mother love. The sacrifice starts with Dietrich returning to the stage as “the Blonde Venus” (“Come Early, Stay Late”) in order to pay for husband Herbert Marshall’s treatment for radium poisoning. She then further sacrifices herself by becoming Cary Grant’s mistress (not everyone would consider that a sacrifice), which Marshall doesn’t appreciate for some reason. There’s more, but it really has to be seen to be believed.
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