A FOREIGN AFFAIR (Billy Wilder, 1948)

Dark, mordant and, at times, dangerously funny, Billy Wilder’s brilliant comedy A Foreign Affair is Hollywood’s contribution to the German genre trummerfilme; it was “largely” shot on location, amidst the ruins and rubble of bombed-out postwar Berlin. It shows defeat and demoralization—and tenacity and dim hope. It is bleedingly moving to boot—an assault on German […]

BLONDE VENUS (Josef von Sternberg, 1932)

Written by Jules Furthman and S.K. Lauren from a story by Furthman and the director, Josef von Sternberg’s engrossing, heartrending Blonde Venus depicts a trenchant human odyssey brilliantly enacted by Marlene Dietrich in perhaps her finest performance. Among actresses, perhaps only Garbo’s Marguerite Gautier surpasses it and perhaps only Baranovskaya’s Pelageya Vlasova, Falconetti’s Joan and […]

THE SCARLET EMPRESS (Josef von Sternberg, 1934)

Set to the music of Tchaikovsky, The Scarlet Empress dazzles with its opulence and the density of its German Expressionism, what Josef von Sternberg, its director, would himself describe as an excess of style. It is based on the diaries of Germany’s Princess Sofia Frederika (Marlene Dietrich, exquisite), who marries Russia’s Grand Duke Pyotr (Sam […]


There aren’t many Billy Wilder films I do not like; but what can one do with Agatha Christie? The convoluted plot, with its surprise ending (oh, so that’s what’s been going on!), chugs from contrivance to contrivance. Moreover, and most damning, perhaps, Marlene Dietrich, who had given one of her best performances in Wilder’s A […]