Here's a German film from 1930 that hasn't lost its entertainment value over the past 90 years. Compelling throughout and visually exceptional for its rich mise-en-scène and elaborate cabaret settings, The Blue Angel is a classic, directed by Josef von Sternberg and with Emil Jannings, Marlene Dietrich, and Kurt Gerron in the starring roles.
Dietrich steals the show, perfect in the role of sassy bohemian enchantress. And Jannings' myriad facial expressions are hilarious.
The venerable Professor Immanuel Rath (Jannings) finds out that his students have been spending their evenings at a local cabaret. He goes there to remove them, but falls head over heels for the show's beguiling headliner, Lola Lola (Dietrich). The magician Kiepert (Gerron) takes a liking to the professor, and after Rath loses his job for falling in love with the show girl, and then marries her, Kiepert gives Rath a job as a clown, much to the ultimate, near-catatonic dismay and humiliation of our once noble pedagogue.
After watching The Blue Angel, I read a a few articles about it and was surprised to learn:
● Emil Jannings was the first person to win the Academy Award for Best Actor. He won for two films that year at the Oscars: The Last Command (1927) and The Way of All (1928). (Also, he's the only German who has won the award.) Jannings went on to work for the Nazis, starring in several propaganda films during WWII and thus seeing his career come to an end with the Third Reich. Despite his work for the Nazis, he was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960.
● Marlene Dietrich, capitalizing on the international success of The Blue Angel, continued to work for von Sternberg, appearing in his Morocco (1930) and Shanghai Express (1932). During the war she performed for Allied troops in a number of places, including the U.K., Italy, France, and Algeria.
● Kurt Gerron was the first person ever to perform the now-famous song "Mack the Knife" publicly, in the play The Threepenny Opera in 1928. Gerron later left Germany for the Netherlands but the Nazis caught up with him and he was subsequently interned in a concentration camp. There he was forced to act in a propaganda film created to portray the camp as humane. When filming ended, Gerron, along with his wife and almost all the performers in the propaganda film, were sent to Auschwitz and gassed upon arrival, the day before Heinrich Himmler ordered that the gas chambers be closed.