Blonde Venus

It's not surprising that the French Surrealists gave themselves over to Sternberg's films with Marlene Dietrich, who for them embodied the disruptive force. Marlene singing “Hot Voodoo” in a gorilla suit brings the exotic home in Sternberg's only Dietrich film set in America. And when she peels off her gorilla hands (not to mention her head), she is Gilda gilded with a delicious element of the absurd. Strip off the animal, and what's underneath? More animal. Dietrich plays a cabaret performer with an ill husband (Herbert Marshall) and a very healthy protector (Cary Grant). She sets out with her son on a journey across Sternbergian America, leading an increasingly tattered existence as they move south to the Mexican border. Sternberg's picture of family life is one of looming depression, even while his forests, bordellos, and flophouses have an uncanny incandescence.

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