'Marlene' Proves the Best of the Divine Dietrich


Following Marlene Dietrich's death Wednesday, enterprising video retailers may be displaying some of her movies over the next few weeks. Fourteen of her 35 movies are on video.

Most are to be avoided, including "Just a Gigolo," "Paris When It Sizzles," "Knight Without Armour," two movies co-starring John Wayne--"The Spoilers" and "Seven Sinners"--and Alfred Hitchcock's uninvolving 1950 drama "Stage Fright."

Possibly the best production she was ever involved in was one she wanted to forget, a thoroughly absorbing 1984 documentary, "Marlene" (on Nelson), directed by actor Maximilian Schell. Though partly a tribute, featuring clips of her film highlights, this is largely a record of combat between filmmaker and subject, a vain, stubborn, cantankerous old woman who refuses to appear on camera. It's a must-see even if you don't care anything about Dietrich.

Films that are worth a look:

"The Blue Angel" (KVC and Crown and Budget, 1930). Directed by Josef von Sternberg, this is the film, about the obsession of a middle-aged teacher (Emil Jannings) for a seedy nightclub singer (Dietrich), that made her an international star. Despite the histrionics of the early talkies era, it's still a joy to watch.

"Blonde Venus" (MCA/1932). In this mildly entertaining drama, directed by Von Sternberg and famed as the film featuring Dietrich singing in an ape suit, she stars as a noble singer working to help her sick husband, while being pursued by a playboy (Cary Grant).

"Touch of Evil" (MCA, 1958). An offbeat, oblique drama set in a Mexican border town that is most notable because it's the work of director-star Orson Welles and because it features Charlton Heston's best screen acting, as a narcotics agent under siege.

"Judgment at Nuremberg" (MGM/UA, 1961). In this first-rate drama about the Nuremberg war trials, starring Spencer Tracy and Maximilian Schell (who won the best actor Oscar), Dietrich contributes a terrific supporting performance as a German officer's widow.

"Morocco" (KVC, 1930). Dated and not easy to watch, this drama, about a cafe singer in love with a French Foreign Legion officer (Gary Cooper), gives you a feeling for Dietrich as an exotic young star. It was her first Hollywood film.

"Destry Rides Again" (MCA, 1939). This is a comedy-Western with Dietrich spiritedly playing a tough dance-hall girl romancing a shy sheriff (James Stewart) saddled with policing a rough town.

"Witness for the Prosecution" (CBS-Fox, 1957). Directed by Billy Wilder, this is a suspenseful courtroom drama, co-starring Charles Laughton. It features an outstanding performance by Dietrich as the wife of a murder suspect (Tyrone Power). It's also just out on laser in a letter-boxed version at $35.

What's New on Video: Here are some recent releases:

"The Commitments" (FoxVideo, $95). Director Alan Parker's exuberant, tune-filled drama about the rise and fall of a young Dublin group that performs soul classics.

"Freejack" (Warner, $95). The plot is full of holes and the action sequences are routine but Mick Jagger, as a bounty hunter, and Anthony Hopkins, in a tiny role, shine in this sci-fi drama about a race-car driver (Emilio Estevez) kidnaped into the future to take part in a sinister body transfer.

"At Play in the Fields of the Lord" (MCA/Universal, no set price). Most critics savaged this long (three hours plus), well-meaning saga about neurotic missionaries (John Lithgow, Kathy Bates, Aidan Quinn) and a confused American Indian (Tom Berenger) paternalistically dealing with Amazon Indians.

"House Party 2" (Columbia TriStar, no set price). The frivolous, infectious energy that propelled the original is present only in spurts in the sequel, again starring lovable rappers Kid 'N Play, working within a thin story line that's an excuse for the music and humor.

"Black Robe" (Academy, $95). Many critics lauded director Bruce Beresford's somber drama, set in Canada in 1634, about the culture clash between French Jesuit missionaries--led by rigid Father Laforgue (Lothaire Bluteau)--and Huron Indians on a grueling cross-country trek.

"Liebestraum" (MGM/UA, $90). Stylized but largely tension-free thriller, directed by Mike Figgis ("Internal Affairs"), with an unknown cast laboring through a story about a modern trio caught up in a triangle mirroring a murder scandal of four decades earlier. Also available in an unrated version featuring an added whorehouse sequence.

"The Winning Team" (Warner Bros., $20). Whitewashed, Hollywoodized 1952 version of the life of heavy-drinking pitching great Grover Cleveland Alexander--played by Ronald Reagan, in one of his finest performances--with Doris Day as his wife.

"A New Kind of Love" (Paramount, $20). A mildly entertaining 1963 romantic comedy in which a reporter (Paul Newman) and a fashion designer (Joanne Woodward) gaily pair in Paris, with Newman showing a comic flair.

"Year of the Gun" (Columbia TriStar, no list price). Sharon Stone and Andrew McCarthy star in this convoluted political drama.

Upcoming on Video: Disney has announced the release of the animated feature "The Great Mouse Detective" on July 17 at $24. Also: "The Butcher's Wife," "Hangin' With the Homeboys" and "Highlander 2: The Quickening" (Wednesday); "My Girl" (May 27); "For the Boys" (May 28); "Cape Fear" (June 4); "Kuffs" (June 18); "Grand Canyon" (June 25); "Bugsy" (July 1).

New on Laser: Among the latest releases: "Freejack," "Frankie & Johnny," "The Super," "Shout" and "Necessary Roughness." Also:

"Sorrowful Jones" (MCA/Universal, $35). So-so, sentimental 1949 comedy, a remake of the Shirley Temple movie "Little Miss Marker," about a New York bookie (Bob Hope) who becomes a daddy when he accepts a 5-year-old girl as wager collateral. Lucille Ball co-stars.

"Jim Thorpe--All American" (Warner, $35). In this typical Hollywood biography, made in 1951, director Michael Curtiz ("Casablanca") turns the life of this great American Indian athlete (Burt Lancaster) into a soap opera.

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