The third of the seven films Josef von Sternberg made with Marlene Dietrich, Dishonored has always been the least frequently shown — something that has incorrectly led to it being considered a lesser work. The truth is it’s a major work in the set — for me, it’s better than the two films that precede it — and its rarity seems to have stemmed from it not being in the main MCA TV package where most movie fans in the ‘60s and ‘70s saw these films. It’s also incorrectly thought of as a Dietrich knock-off of the (frankly deadly dull) Greta Garbo Mata Harii which actually came out more than eight months after Dishonored. No, this is all Sternberg-Dietrich: a pulp fiction spy story, an overheated romance, and a preposterous adventure — all taking place in one of those exotic worlds that existed only in the mind of Josef von Sternberg and the design department at Paramount. Ostensibly, the film takes place in Austria during the First World War when war-widow-turned-patriotic-streetwalker Dietrich becomes a spy for the fatherland thanks to the head of the Austrian secret service (Gustav von Seyffertitz in an uncharacteristically likable role). She glamorously exposes a traitor (Warner Oland), tackles a Russian spy (Victor McLaglen in an incredibly weird bit of casting) and, of course, falls in love with him — all in a variety of those Travis Banton gowns. Apart from the ending (famously shot in an airplane hangar to get the sound Sternberg wanted), the story matters less than it’s the way Sternberg presents it and the feverish atmosphere he creates (there’s a masked ball — with Dietrich dressed as a fantasticated bird — where the screen is absolutely packed with confetti and streamers so that not a single inch of the frame — including the space between the actors and the camera — goes unused). It’s all quite preposterous — and absolutey wonderful.
The Asheville Film Society will screen Dishonored Tuesday, Oct. 16 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.