Blonde Venus (1932) Director: Josef von Sternberg
The idea for the story for Blonde Venus was created by von Sternberg and his fellow screen-writer, Jules Furthman, however the original story was called “Mother Love” and was written by Marlene Dietrich.
Blonde Venus is another excellent film collaboration between Dietrich and von Sternberg. Dietrich delivers a terrific performance as she straddles the line between innocent mother and family-woman, to being the glittering and sexualized late-night cabaret singer. She delivers several great musical numbers: “Hot Voodoo” and “You Little So-and-So” and “I Couldn’t Be Annoyed.” Also the appearance of Cary Grant as her wealthy suitor is an unusual role for him but it surprisingly works.
At the outset several American tourists are traveling in Germany when they stumble upon a group of naked women swimming. From this point one of the young American men named Ned pursues one of the German women named Helen (played by Marlene Dietrich). We see them next later when they are married with a child. They love each other, however they are impoverished. Ned tries to sell his body to science after accidentally believing he poisoned himself while working as a chemist. However, the couple decides to send Ned away to get treatment for radiation poisoning. Meanwhile, Helen gets a job as a Cabaret girl where she meets a dashing man named Nick Townsend (played by a young Cary Grant). He is a politician and frequenter of the night club. He gives Helen money in exchange for what they call “favors.” She lies to her husband, Ned, about how she got the money for his treatment. He goes away for treatment, and then Nick brings Helen to live with him (thus removing her need to work during the summer). They go on a vacation together and she returns home to find Ned already waiting for her. She confesses her infidelity and when he disowns her, Helen flees and lives on the run with her son while Ned has the police search for her, trailing her performances throughout Europe. Eventually, she relents and gives up her son quietly to Ned. She then devotes herself to a successful cabaret career in Paris where she runs into Nick again. They plan to move to the United States to be married, but she returns once more home where she and Ned have a touching moment re-telling the story of how they first met. The ending is somewhat ambiguous, however we are led to believe they decide to return to one another for the sake of a stable household for their young son, Johnny.
The Hay’s Office apparently gave this film quite a difficult time, perhaps due to its scandalous subject matter.