Emil Jannings was very good in “The Blue Angel” but Dietrich stole the show. From the sultriness and dominance of Lola to the intensity with which she is played, Dietrich captivated the audience. How much of this was Sternberg, his sense of the mechanics of a temptress and his skillfulness in surrounding such a creature with a steamy atmosphere, and how much of it was Dietrich has been debated.
Certainly it was the fantasies of a man, in this case Sternberg, who created the scenes where a dominant female could flourish. He created the scenes where Dietrich did obscene things (for a 1930 audience) such as the casual changing and tossing of her panties, having her grossly spitting into her mascara box, having her drop cigarettes under her dressing table and making Jannings get down and pick them up so that he will be within inches of her bare legs and her neighboring erogenous zone. It was Sternberg who gave Dietrich the cruel lines, "You've come back; they always do", when the proud college professor returns to her dressing room. And it was he who directed Lola's sudden and viciously switch from seductress to Humiliatrix on their wedding night.
But it is Dietrich's magnetism, her way of sinking her eyes behind a curtain, her way of teasing men as she flaunts her sexuality, and her ability to blend just the right tones of ‘Men cluster to me like moths around a flame. And if their wings burn, I know I'm not to blame’ as she sings "Falling in Love Again".
Evidently Emil Jannings chose the book “Professor Unrat” by Heinrich Mann because it followed the general line of the kind of stories in which he had made popular. These were stories of fallen idols, men of substance and authority who, for one reason or another (usually because of women), were reduced to ruin and shame.
"Professor Unrat” was a story of a renowned school teacher who lost his position and social standing when he married a demimonde singer (Rosa) and thereafter disgraced himself. Rosa seduces the professor, beginning a relationship with him that sees him catering to her every wish: expensive restaurants, new clothing, a furnished flat, even sorting her laundry.
Eventually he is fired from his position, marries Rosa, and after two years of this marriage, Raat is financially ruined. A friend of Rosa's suggests that Raat give ‘lectures’, which serve as a cover for Rosa to discreetly entertain male clientele in the professor's formerly respectable home. By the end of the book he is reduced to a man that runs through the streets of town where he is mocked and ridiculed.
Dietrich’s sexuality, dominance and screen presence, combined with Sternberg’s photography and supreme lighting, mixed in with the sexy costumes created by Travis Banton, all became a recipe to create films that have never been equaled and have stood the test of time. “Morocco” was a particularly notable film as this was Marlene’s first appearance wearing a suit/trousers combo which would become her trademark, and the woman to woman kiss that appeared in the film also caused a stir at the time.
Humiliation can be fun and it can be a tool that a dominant woman uses to take the male ego down a peg or two, but there must be limits because every person has a breaking point. I’ve heard of the stories of women forcing their reluctant husbands into extreme humiliation, such as forced-bi with another man all for the wife’s entertainment. And there is extreme financial domination where a Mistress takes a man for all of his money, leaving him both broken and broke.
As Sergeant Phil Esterhaus used to say on “Hill Street Blues";
'Hey, let's be careful out there.’