Dietrich and director Josef von Sternberg met in Germany when he plucked her from obscurity for the starring role of The Blue Angel, after which she came to America and instant stardom. A string of films with Sternberg created her image as an exotic source of fascination, both ethereal and sexually knowing. Three of those outings are included in this package. Morocco, their first Hollywood movie together, is a delirious look at a cabaret singer taken with a Foreign Legion soldier (the young Gary Cooper). Dressed in masculine clothes for her act, Dietrich already displays a sexual confidence that fairly burns off the screen. Blonde Venus has a soap opera-ish plot about a woman's fall and rise, but Dietrich's commitment to the part is complete; plus, there's an outrageous faux-African number that begins with Dietrich dressed in a gorilla costume. Cary Grant looks on in astonishment.
The Devil Is a Woman is an unmitigated Sternberg-Dietrich masterpiece, and their final movie together. Here Marlene is a Spanish vixen making life exciting and miserable for Lionel Atwill (a lookalike stand-in for Josef von Sternberg himself). The film is an eye-popping light-painting draped with feathers, mesh, and confetti, all of which are in service to a fundamentally serious inquiry into the knotty business of men and women.
Putting three of the Paramount Dietrich-Sternberg films in this collection and leaving out the other three is either carelessness or marketing strategy. In any case, the other two movies in this package are not at the same level, but certainly good fun. The Flame of New Orleans, director Rene Clair's first Hollywood picture, is a gorgeously photographed comedy with a delightful role for its star. Dietrich is stuck choosing between aristocrat Roland Young and rough sailor Bruce Cabot. The look on her face as she listens to helpful advice about wedding-night conjugal realities from a matron is a riot of erotic mischief. Golden Earrings is a crazy story about Ray Milland getting stuck behind German lines in the early days of WWII, and being taken in by gypsy girl Dietrich. Even here, nearly 20 years after her first stardom, she's still Dietrich. The hair may be dyed black, but the cheekbones are unmistakable. --Robert Horton