Marlene Dietrich: Her Own Song (David Riva, 2001): Germany/USA

Reviewed by Kathleen Amboy.  Viewed on TCM.

 Marlene Dietrich:  Her Own Song  follows the distinguished career of film icon Marlene Dietrich, which highlights her films, recordings, personal life, and most importantly her triumphant role in World War II history.

Born in Germany in 1901, Dietrich’s career began on the stage in Berlin and quickly moved to silent pictures.  She earned international fame through her role in The Blue Angel (1930), the first of seven pictures in a collaboration with famed director Josef Von Sternberg.

Accepting a film invitation from Hollywood, the distinctly German actress would travel back and forth to Europe from the United States in order to visit family, while avoiding Germany and the loathsome Nazi regime.  Being given an offer she couldn’t refuse from Nazi hierarchy, to become their poster child for propaganda, Dietrich promptly returned to the U.S. and decisively took out citizenship in 1939, prior to the outbreak of war.

Soon after the United States entered the war in 1941, the most adamant anti-Nazi Marlene Dietrich, actively began to sell war bonds and entertain the troops with the USO.  Feeling very deeply for her “boys,” Dietrich was not content until she was able to mingle and travel with American servicemen, by digging in on the front-lines in France and elsewhere – all while in her 40’s!

She was called upon by the OSS to help in propaganda, in an Allied version of Tokyo Rose, and recorded popular tunes in German that would be broadcast to German soldiers, making them increasingly war-weary and homesick.  Often jeopardizing her own health and safety, Dietrich eventually entered Germany with General John Gavin at the end of the European conflict, where she was reunited with her mother and family.

Dietrich never fully recovered from the sting of war, but she did ultimately receive the Medal of Freedom award.  She returned to performing live, and successfully performed German songs in Israel and Germany.

Marlene Dietrich:  Her Own Song is a fascinating tribute, warmly documented by her grandson David Riva, and narrated by Jamie Lee Curtis.  It contains notes from her diary, archival footage, first-person voice-overs, clips from various interviews, and rare images of Dietrich in her front-line fatigues.  This is a must-see for film historians and WWII film fans, since Dietrich was in every way a brave ambassador for the Allies.

There are a handful of tunes that are synonymous with Marlene Dietrich:  Lili Marlene, The Laziest Gal in Town, Falling in Love Again, and her own version of La Vie En Rose.  She delivers standout performances in Hitchcock’s Stage Fright (1950), and Billy Wilder’s Witness for the Prosecution (1957) that are my personal favs.




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