As this was the last of the seven Dietrich-Von Sternberg films to be released on video, I waited for quite some to see the film for the first time. I had read that this film was Dietrich's personal favorite because she never looked as beautiful. Having seen Shanghai Express, Desire, and most all her other films, that seemed to me to be stretching it a little. When Marlene makes her entrance in the carnival scene, my mouth dropped to the floor.Her face is sheer perfection.
Being primarily a visual film, don't look for an extremely deep plot or witty banter. The visuals alone make this film, and make this film worth seeing over and over. The atmosphere in this film is one of decadence, and that feeling of falling in love kamikaze-style that just can't be helped.
Many felt that Lionel Atwill was nothing more than a stand-in for Sternberg himself, and that this film reflected his obsession/love/frustration with Dietrich. Dietrich herself had no comment, other than "rubbish!"
I say, the truth of the matter is known only to very few, especially now, so long after the fact, but this film presents a relationship so tortured, so alluring, it's easy to compare the movie to real (?) life. The visual texture is so rich, so heavily veiled, many viewings are needed to see all in a scene. The costumes are outrageous, borderline camp, and only Dietrich herself could make them work, and they do. The photography is exquisite, with so much light and shadow that one could almost see it in color.
Finally, this film failed in its initial box-office run in the thirties, mainly due to the public's lack of sophistication, likely. Be that as it may, this film should used to teach cinematography to all film-makers today.