15 January 2012

The Bump

Steven Bach and Maria Riva described Marlene Dietrich's upturned nose as a flaw, but I never shared that view. If you want to see Dietrich in both her stylized and natural states, take a gander at A Certain Cinema, one of my favorite online collections of Dietrich photos. Among these images, I observe no duck, pug, pig or other animal nose. If Dietrich had any facial blemish, it would be the one that has become the object of my obsession whenever I watch her films on DVD, the one that I never notice in studio portraits--likely thanks to judicious retouching. By no means would I regard it as a blot, but I've fixated on it ever since I saw The Scarlet Empress at the Egyptian Theater, where--in the silver screen's magnified proportions--it first became apparent to me. I'm talking about the bump near her lower lip. Has anyone else ever pointed it out? Was it a wart, a scar, a concealed mole? I've never read anything of it. For those of you who may be rolling your eyes or scratching your heads, I've compiled a gallery of screenshots featuring THE BUMP.

EXHIBIT A: I'm ready for my close-up, Herr Lang.
What? You don't see it? How about now?
Of course, Alter had a few tricks up her sleeve--and in her makeup bag.
Frenchy, however, wasn't so keen with cosmetics.
You painted the wrong spot, you hussy!
Fortunately, soft focus and lighting were on her side to hide it?
But not on Lydia's, who missed the mark, too.
At least this old slapper got it right!
Otherwise, the bump would have given Christine away.

This screen capture features two bumps,
and one is lacking a cherry on top.
What a pity the lady and the judge hit a bump in their relationship--
they had such great onscreen chemistry.
The barely-there bump was even less discernible during Dietrich's youth and under
Sternberg's direction. Watch the Blonde Venus scene in which Helen reveals to Ned
what she did during his absence. Her face remains at a distance as you see above.
While his gets closer . . .
and closer . . .
Only when custody comes up do Helen and the bump try to match Ned's snarl.
I think it's the pout that brings it out.
Lucy and Desi, how'd you two get here?!
Peekaboo! I still see you, bump!
Screen caps come from the following films: Rancho Notorious (1,2,3), Destry Rides Again (4,5), Golden Earrings (6), Witness for the Prosecution (7,8), The Spoilers (9), Judgment at Nuremberg (10), Blonde Venus (11,12,13,14,15), The Scarlet Empress (16,17), The Devil Is a Woman (18).


  1. I have just been watching Shanghai Express and I reckon it is a mole, she was beautiful bump and all!

  2. I've always noticed and liked her little beauty mark / mole. I love the first photo you post: her final death scene close-up from the underrated Rancho Notorious!

  3. Similar to Marilyn's bump, which she decorated sometimes.

  4. Marlene's bump looks to me like it may have had beauty mark potential - a la Marilyn or Cindy Crawford. But maybe Marlene's wasn't especially photogenic or well-placed. On the subject of her nose, I certainly don't see it as a flaw. von Sternberg, Paramount, Jean Gabin, et al, didn't seem to object to it either.

  5. If it was a beauty mark, I can see why Dietrich wouldn't emphasize it in photos. In movies, she used beauty marks when she was playing the barfly prototype--a saloon girl--a la Alter Keane and Frenchy, which wasn't Dietrich's public image at all. The only '30s star who comes to mind who did decorate her face with beauty marks was Jean Harlow, and she certainly had a low-class public image. Moreover, her beauty mark went on an odyssey across her face, as this blogger pointed out.

  6. It's particularly obvious in the Nuremberg portraits. I read this was a typical German mark.

  7. Hah! Love your captions! Seems as she grew older, she couldn't care less about "the bump". It's on a lot of photos that seem otherwise retouched.