As the Professor tears at the crust of his lonely heart and makes his way like Hansel through the dark-wood streets toward Marlene Dietrich's legs, a snatch of song wafts by, "The Faithful Hussar"; and so, too, does Emil Jannings hasten to his love--but she is no dying maiden.
It was a difficult film for me to watch. That foolish Professor is hiding inside me, eager to give up everything for one slim chance, a lacy garment in his pocket, the wrong idea in his head. And the movie is merciless, punishing him for his stale-perfume dreams, grease-painted and forlorn--even straight-jacketed, the crowing cuckold, eyes darting, vainly searching for a way out. And in the end, clutching his former professorial desk--dead? God, I hope so; anything but another day of handling Lola Lola's warm and careless stockings.
Josef von Sternberg seems to love Dietrich as much as the Professor, recklessly running his flickering lights over her frilly curves, letting her stare him down in scornful song--claiming she can't help falling in love again with all the conviction of a child caught at the cookie jar--but she is no child, if I may note the obvious--and not so much a vamp as a weary campaigner, shaking her head over the naiveté of the fresh fish.
The Professor's home town crowds "Der Blaue Enge" for his return engagement--now the stooge rather than the martinet--and some are outraged at his disgrace, some pitying--most jeering, happy to see the mighty fallen--I can't tell which is the proper response--until Jannings insists he is every fading light we have ever mourned--and his Professor's folly makes awful sense, his clownface smeared, Lola Lola's scent still in his putty-nose, sweet and more than a little ripe.