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Marlene Dietrich DVD collection

Marlene Dietrich DVD collection:

Blonde Venus
Devil Is A Woman
Flame Of New Orleans
Follow The Boys
A Foreign Affair
Golden Earrings
Seven Sinners
Song Of Songs

March 2007 SITE MAP   SEARCH

The Song Of Songs
cast: Marlene Dietrich, Brian Aherne, Lionel Atwill, Alison Skipworth, and Hardie Albright

director: Rouben Mamoulian

86 minutes (12) 1933
Universal Pictures DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
In The Song Of Songs, following her father's death, Lily (Marlene Dietrich), unskilled in the world, is packed off to the bookshop of her Aunt Rasmussen (Alison Skipworth) where the bible hugging girl becomes tickled by the exciting city as it's sights and sounds trickle in through bedroom window and shop door. Living in the roof studio of the building opposite is a talented but cash-strapped sculptor named Waldow (Brian Aherne) who is dependent on commissions from Baron von Merzbach (Lionel Atwill). Lily is soon sneaking out of the window and persuaded out of her clothes to act as muse for his new work which he will call 'The Song of Songs', the title taken from her favourite bible story, the voice of her beloved, a deeply romantic transference from God to the unknown man of her dreams.

The aunts own 'ungrateful' daughters have already escaped the dreary life and Lily is no different in her yearnings, merely retarded in her uptake of them, and the change of circumstances proposes swifter change in the girl. Wadlow is creatively driven and overly familiar with female flesh, more excited by the clay results than the pulchritude of the original. The alabaster sheen of her beautiful limbs and torso are in a sequence set against the sculpted nudes about his studio, tactfully removing the camera from forbidden details of the flesh into the rude carved minutiae of the clay results. The Song of Songs statue is already owned. Pre-bought, concept undeclared, by the Baron who chance meets Lily on this first modelling assignment. The Baron seizes upon her natural attractions immediately, long before the artist can see them and fall for the girl himself, by which time he has long before informed the Baron that he has no romantic design on her, permitting his sponsor to pursue her. The finished statue looks like a hood ornament met large. If its nipples are anything to go by, Lily's earlier complaint about the cold of the studio was more than a delaying tactic from disrobing. Discovered by the aunt returning from the first night out, the belt strap on her back only serves to step up the girl into feistier rebellion. She dopes the old woman up to continue the trips across the street.

The years of Puritanism fall away overnight and she becomes a playful thing, released of her modesty and the old morality. The Baron is soon dropping in at the bookshop bunging the aunt, purchasing volumes excessively outside their price, to prompt the woman to send the girl his way. Lily has her sights set on the artist, but he has already given her up to the Baron and with the job finished she rushes uncertainly into a marriage with the older man. It destroys her, she is hemmed in by the lifestyle and the people and creates the devastating circumstances for an affair, as much to infuriate Wadlow than her husband, and discovered in flagrante she flees the grounds and a husband who is ready to kill her, returning to the city. Following some period of searching Wadlow tracks her down and blames himself for what he believes she has become, but this is heading for a salvable, romantic conclusion.

Two years on from his Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde, this is a less adventurous shoot for director, Rouben Mamoulian. Dietrich is initially miscast, the oomph factor shining through. Togged up like something out of a 1980s' New Order video the costume allows for some amusing early dialogue from Alison Skipworth's cutting Aunt Rasmussen. "Take that black pancake off your head and climb out of that black shroud." When she removes the layers of clothing it prompts the aunt's laughter and further comment of "I've never seen a girl unpeel herself like an onion before." Based on a play by Edward Sheldon, in turn based on a novel by Herman Suderman, the script by Leo Brinski and Samuel Hoffenstein is playful and smart, becoming serious before the film's end. When he first catches sight of Lily's leg on a ladder he counters her shock by putting it into context: "If you'd seen as many legs as I had you'd get more excited by crutches." Lionel Atwill is the imperial villain delivers the film's most shocking line, instructing the sculptor, "Give her to me!"

The image quality is immaculate for a 1933 film, the cinematography of Victor Milner fantastic in the chiaroscuro street scenes and striking in the criss-crossing latticework of shadows for interiors. But there are fewer tricks than tried for by the director in 1931, though at one point the aunt is reflected in a mirror, like a talking portrait, the angle tight to enable it, a stunt played in the opening of Jekyll And Hyde. This time it barely goes noticed as the viewer is focused on the undressing Marlene. There are ruinous notes. The sculpted artwork that litters the studio is of various design and style and fails to speak of the work of one artist. The story is a simple melodrama told with few characters, exciting several years into the sound era but too basic today. Harmless enough.

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