Der Blaue Engel (The Blue Angel), continued
In the cabaret the manager, bar owner, and policeman all show him the respect due his position as a professor, but when he hides in the cellar and catches his students there, they no longer treat him as an authority figure because he has shown himself to be just as susceptible to a pretty girl (and as willing to bend the rules of social conduct) as they are.
A student dares to light up a cigarette in his presence, and when the professor demands to know what they are doing there, he replies "the same as you". After the professor spends the night with Lola, he has effectively lost all his power to discipline his students.
They not only draw smutty cartoons of him on his blackboard, they actually riot in his classroom, chanting "unrat" (which means filth, garbage, or excrement). When the school principle asks him if a woman of that sort is worth risking his career for, Dr. Rath is still blinded to the social impossibility of associating with Lola, and announces that she will be his wife, as if expecting that to automatically transform her into a respectable woman. In actuality it only lowers him to her social level, and he is dismissed from his job. As he empties his desk and takes one last look at his classroom, a slow traveling shot encompasses the empty classroom with the tenderness of a last embrace, his loneliness accentuated by the utter silence and stillness of the room. The same shot reemerges at the film's end and serves as his obituary.
The wedding scene is the only happiness Dr. Rath ever knows in this film. When Lola playfully imitates a hen clucking, he crows with joy and exultation.
But soon after the wedding, he finds and objects to Lola selling naughty postcards of herself, she exerts her power over him and makes him pick them up. He had been the center and ruler of his little world, but in this marriage, Lola is the authority figure with all the power. When he objects to the way they live, she simply says "you can leave". But he has nowhere left to go. Soon he is selling the cards himself, as the only way to make money that he is now fit for. The earlier novelty of helping Lola with her makeup is now a demeaning chore, because she is beautifying herself not for him, but for others. They need money to live, and as he has nothing else to give her, she feels free to take advantage of other men any way she can.
His life becomes a series of petty humiliations, culminating in the return of the troupe to his home town. He woodenly puts on his clown makeup with all the restrained grief of a martyr preparing to enter the arena and face the lions.
In an ironic twist, his greatest humiliation, being forced to crow as he had on his wedding day while being demeaned onstage to the derision of his former peers happens simultaneously to his witnessing Lola enjoying being manhandled by a new conquest. He knows he has lost her. His crowing becomes a scream of horror and despair as he attacks and tries to strangle her. His tearing the room apart in an enraged fury is all the more effective for not being seen but only heard from off-camera as instead we are shown the appalled faces of the spectators.
In a touching moment, the manager takes off the straight-jacket they had confined him in, and in an echo of the principle's earlier sentiments, asks "How could you become this, you, a man of distinction? All for a woman" and pats him consolingly. He is again alone in the silence, a lost desolate husk. He has lost everything he holds dear, including the woman he gave it all up for. Like a wounded animal seeking shelter in it's lair, he sneaks back to the classroom that had once been his domain to die. While he has been changed irrevocably by Lola, she remains unchanged, as untouched by his passing as she was by his intrusion into her life. Her story ends exactly as it began, "falling in love again", caught up in the thrill of the chase. Lola's sensual life is totally selfish, amoral, blind to the existence of any other being but herself; she is committed to love, not to loving someone. As once again she sings of men gathering round her like moths to aflame, the closing shot shows her in a pool of light, luminescent as the flame she sings of. Like a sea siren, she is beautiful but deadly.
In the years before this movie was made, the once strong German people had been devastated by the aftermath of World War One. Paper money worth a fortune the day before would not buy a loaf of bread the following morning. All normal values became obsolete. Morality became a facade, or a curiosity. At a time when Germany was trying to improve it's national image, Von Sternberg exposed the corruption and vices in German bourgeois society. The Blue Angel evokes an atmosphere which in retrospect offers comparisons between the cruel school boys and the rising tide of cruelty within Germany; between the released passions of Lola Lola and the repressed passions of the German people; and between the increasing incompetency of Professor Unrat and the disintegration of the old order. Kracauer in From Caligari to Hitler refers to the film as a "considered statement of the phychological situation of the time".
(1) A Short History of the Movies, Gerald Mast & Bruce F.
(2) Fun in a Chinese Laundry, by Josef Von Sternberg, 1952
(3) From Caligari to Hitler, by Siegfried Kracauer, 1947
(4) A Short History of the Movies, Gerald Mast and Bruce Kawin, 1971
(5) From Caligari to Hitler, by Siegfried Kracauer, 1947
(6) Light and Shadows, Thomas W. Bohn and Richard L. Stromgren, 1975
Bohn, Thomas W & Stromgren, Richard L., Light and Shadows. Port Washington, N.Y.: Alfred
Publishing Company, 1975
Kracauer, Siegfried, From Caligari to Hitler. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1947
Mast, Gerald & Kawin, Bruce F., A Short History of the Movies. New York: Macmillan
Publishing Company, 1971
Von Sternberg, Josef, Fun in a Chinese Laundry. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1965
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