1931. USA. Josef von Sternberg. 91 min.
Thursday, April 3, 2014, 4:00 p.m.
Theater 2 (The Roy and Niuta Titus Theater 2), T2
1931. USA. Directed by Josef von Sternberg. Screenplay by Daniel Nathan Rubin, Sternberg. With Marlene Dietrich, Victor McLaglen, Gustav von Seyffertitz. Dishonored has largely gotten short shrift in recent decades—certainly in comparison with more well-known Sternberg-Dietrich collaborations like The Blue Angel, Morocco, and Blonde Venus—but once you’ve had the sublime pleasure of seeing it on the big screen, you’ll appreciate why Jean-Luc Godard in 1963 considered it one of the greatest American sound films ever made. Sternberg’s tale of sexual sacrifice, disguised as an espionage melodrama, opens in 1915, when “strange figures emerge from the dust of the falling Austrian empire.” Marlene Dietrich is the prostitute who reinvents herself as the glamorous, Mata Hari-like spy X27, using her intoxicating yet elusive charms and a few well-chosen props—lipstick, a pair of stockings, a piano, and a pussycat—to steal hearts and state secrets for her country, only to be done in by her infatuation with an agent (McLaglen) from Austria’s most hated rival, Mother Russia. The film’s famed Viennese masked ball sequence, a triumph of cinematic space and light and shadow, has been frequently quoted but never surpassed. Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive; courtesy NBC Universal Distribution. 91 min.