Production Company: Paramount
Top Billed Actors: Marlene Dietrich, Clive Brook, Anna May Wong
IMDb Rating: 7.5
*Best Picture Nominee*
Won 1 Oscar:
Best Cinematography - Lee Garmes
Nominated for 2 more:
Best Director - Josef von Sternberg
Plot: Former lovers meet on a train while the director plays with his camera.
The cinematography rides first class in this film. The movie starts with multiple shots of the train station with many pleasing fades. The staging is dynamic and it really feels like the viewer is on a cramped train for a majority of the movie. It seems like Hollywood has progressed out of the stagey movies that feel more like plays. There is always something to look for in every shot of the picture. What makes this movie the most famous, camera-wise, is the chiaroscuro technique, which refers to using light and dark contrast. It gives this movie an early film noir feel This is especially effective when Dietrich is praying for Clive Brook when he is taken hostage as only her hands are seen on screen. The mysterious Anna May Wong is often lurking in the shadows as well. My favorite shot has to be when Dietrich is smoking towards the end of the film. The contrast is artfully rendered and the effect is beautiful. Lee Garmes won the Award but he credited most of the work to von Sternberg. I did enjoy the bizarre filming in Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, but I am glad this film was awarded.
One can tell the cinematography and style of the film was at the front of von Sternberg's mind. The story takes a ride in the caboose as the overarching theme of faith in a romantic relationship is rather dull. The acting in many scenes is also a low point of the picture. In the action scenes, Brook is able to punch soldiers one time to knock them out. Ten minutes prior, he punches the main antagonist and he gets up without a scratch. How convenient is this to the slow progressing plot?
Overall, this is a great movie to observe the camerawork with the light/dark contrast and many use of fades. The story, however, makes it a slight chore to get through.
My Score: 7/10