The Woman Men Yearn For
Filmfest 2009

This German romantic thriller marked the last silent film for director Kurt Bernhardt and the first leading role for Marlene Dietrich. Shot in Berlin in 1928, the story follows Stascha, the femme fatale who seduces a recently married man on a train. Viennese actor Fritz Kortner plays her homicidally obsessive lover Dr. Karoff. Dietrich refused to speak about her silent film career, preferring to think of her first film as THE BLUE ANGEL with Josef von Sternberg. THE WOMAN MEN YEARN FOR, her 15th silent film, proves that she played dangerous women before becoming an international star. Something about 1929 in Europe stimulated a half-dozen masterworks of erotic cinema, films that steamed the spectacles of contemporary viewers. Clearly they provided needed distraction from the economic instability that would sweep across the continent before the year's end, but perhaps imagination was also making its last stand. In this final year of silent cinema, filmmakers could still extend and intensify emotions, before words and regional accents would force the audience into a literal understanding of the images, while a prosaic conception of time would accelerate plots. If the brain is our most erogenous organ, then the hush of intimacy in which the last silent films perfected their dream-like images was an ideal medium for nourishing the senses... mere months before donning the silk panties and top hat of THE BLUE ANGEL, Dietrich here gave a performance that looks completely recognizable in terms of her later films. Without question, her charisma is in full flower, suggesting that she brought rather more to Sternberg than is usually acknowledged. Dietrich works her trademark stillness, economy and intensity, with all the centrality of a star, and from her striking entrance, she is photographed like a star, yet Bernhardt's silent film was forgotten in the rush to talkies... Why is this film not known? Dietrich, ever the devoted caretaker of her own image, always downplayed her pre-Sternberg career, dismissing her seventeen films in six years as little more than extra work. Some were supporting roles, it's true, extensions of the kind of impudent flapper roles she was playing in Berlin revues. No doubt the more age-conscious she became, the more loath she was to date herself by associations with the patently old-fashioned era of nickolodeons. Robert Keser,

tags: Feature film

Cast: Marlene Dietrich, Fritz Kortner, Frida Richard, Oskar Sima, Uno Henning


Director: Kurt Bernhardt