Saturday, October 16, 2010

Marlene Dietrich night

TCM is showing several movies this evening starring the always wonderful Marlene Dietrich. One that I haven't recommended before is this week's TCM Essential, A Foreign Affair, which kicks off the night at 8:00 PM ET.

The scene is Berlin, not long after the end of World War II. A delegation from the US House of Representatives, including Representative Phoebe Frost from Iowa (Jean Arthur), has flown to West Berlin to investigate the morale of the American troops stationed there; namely, are they fraternizing too much with some of the Germans? After all, in those days West Berlin was filled not only with Germans who would still have sympathized with the Nazis, but spies for the Communists as well. (Berlin Express, which deserves a post of its own one of these days, is another good period example of this; one that's a straight-up thriller.) Rep. Cates is pretty quickly put in touch with US Army Capt. John Pringle (John Lund), who just happens to be one of Cates' constituents. Together, the two are supposed to determine the real truth about the US soldiers and particularly, their relationship with nightclub singer Erika von Schlütow (Marlene Dietrich), who under the previous regime had had some romantic dalliances with high-ranking Nazis.

The investigation develops some predictable problems at this point. We quickly learn that von Schlütow is a woman who will romance almost anybody for the purpose of survival; now that the Nazis have been defeated, that means cozying up to the occupation forces, specifically in the person of one Capt. John Pringle. It's not the only problem John has; he finds that some sparks are beginning to form between him and Rep. Frost. That's just as big a problem for Frost, who is supposed to be no-nonsense. It, however, is not her only problem; she's getting stonewalled from the military higher-ups and the rest of the congressional delegation.

Billy Wilder directed and as often happened co-wrote the screenplay, so you can see how the plot gets so complex and intertwined. Wilder isn't just telling us a good story; he's also giving us some subtle social commentary. As for the performances, Jean Arthur gets to let her hair down once again, singing an "Iowa Corn Song" in the nightclub where Dietrich's character works. Dietrich probably has the tougher task, playing a woman who is at heart amoral and just trying to survive, but does a good job not only of that, but of entertaining us during her musical numbers. I've mentioned before that I'm not a huge fan of John Lund, and while he's adequate here, that's all he is. Still, with Billy Wilder and the two female leads, it's tough to go wrong.

A Foreign Affair does not seem to have gotten a DVD release yet, which is surprising. So you'll have to catch it on TCM.

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