DIETRICH by Alexander Walker


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Apparently drawn to the most aloof, chilly female stars, British critic Walker (Garbo, Joan Crawford) devotes this third sumptuously illustrated career-biography to Marlene Dietrich, who personifies the ""romantic side of the warrior myth""--with the ""concept of militarism"" running through her ""whole existence, public and private, factual and fictitious."" Walker gives unusually detailed attention to Dietrich's early German film-work, finding that much of the Dietrich image was present even before Josef von Sternberg, ""the lord and master of erotic humiliation, Created his Dietrich in The Blue Angel. The dynamics of the Von Sternberg/Dietrich collaboration is given shrewd, balanced treatment, however--with credit, too, to Hollywood lighting-designer Lee Garmes. Walker wryly notes that, as soon as she was freed from Von S.'s manic domination, Dietrich ""began applying in the most immediate and practical form"" her own version of his authoritative, obsessive attention to her image. And, from the 1930s on, Walker sees Dietrich as the least flexible of super-stars, caught in one rut after another (femme fatale, etc.)--with WW II troop-tours showing her the way to a far more successful later career: Marlene as Marlene. (""From the very first day of international fame, she was a manufactured article."") Walker, with no fresh interview material, offers only a few glimpses of the Dietrich private-life--the devoted mother, the longtime wife (in name anyway), her many ""maternal"" liaisons with leading men. But, while gossip-seekers have several hack-biographies to choose from, this superbly illustrated essay (witty photo-pairings show the Garbo/Dietrich imitation-syndrome) is solid, stylish reading for more serious film-buffs.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Harper & Row