|Dietrich headlined, but Gruber stole the show|
Bah! I'm typing out of order. If you want a structured synopsis, read the one on the Silents Are Golden site, which summarizes exactly what I saw; however, the print the Aero screened continued after Gottlinger noticed the ring on Hansi's finger. Maybe the Silents Are Golden writer didn't wish to spoil any surprises, not that there are any. Also, read Ferdinand Von Galitzien's spiel; he's Blogger nobility, you know. I'll share a slightly cleaned-up and cleaner version of my jumbled notes, which I wrote right after watching the film:
- The screen siren and style icon that we know Dietrich to be simply wasn't in this film. Her first dress is a pleated satin-looking thing that shows lots of wrinkles. The second dress, a lace frock that accentuates her drooping bosom. At least the director had the sense to cut to the legs. Thus, Josef von Sternberg wasn't the first Austrian to see their fetishistic appeal. Cafe Elektric's director, Gustav Ucicky, perhaps had his alleged father Gustav Klimt's artistic eye for the ladies. As for Ucicky, a young representative from the Austrian consulate gave a little written speech about the movie's meaning from an Austrian perspective because Ucicky went on to direct Nazi propaganda, yet Dietrich became an ardent anti-Nazi. I didn't see how that was relevant from any perspective, but at least the representative looked dapper.
- Pre-Sternberg Dietrich clearly knew little about lighting because she let Max (played by Igo Sym) cast a shadow on her face at the construction site. Max is prettier than Dietrich's character Erni, especially his eyes, so all is forgiven. Dietrich's eyes, on the other hand, look like they've got cataracts. I blame the lighting, which washes out her face in most of the shots. Didn't Gloria Swanson complain about this in old movies?
- Max manages to make a major career change--engineer to journalist--exemplifying the mobility of the bourgeoisie? Hansi (Nina Vanna), who is incidentally much more attractive and charismatic than Erni, has a hard time financially because of her history as a whore of sorts, although her professional ties could have helped her had she been less virtuous like Dietrich's character Fay Duval in Manpower. Maybe Dietrich should have played Hansi?
- This movie introduced actors' names in the intertitles as they appeared, which means I don't know how they were billed during this movie's initial release, but Hansi got more screen time than Erni. Undoubtedly, Dietrich only got top billing at the screening I saw because of her iconic status. In fact, a woman asked, "Where are all the Dietrich fans?" before the movie played, possibly because few people were pouring into the theater at that point. I should have shouted, "Me!"
- The plot's quite easy to predict due to heavy-handed foreshadowing. Only an idiot wouldn't have realized that Max would be blamed for stealing the ring when Erni's dad Gottlinger (Fritz Alberti) caught him fighting with Erni at the construction site.
- Gruber informed us that the film is incomplete, and it's unknown how Dietrich disappears. Does her dad kill her for stealing a ring for that lowlife pickpocket? Does she run away? Kill herself? What?
- Forst is a bit of a ham but not annoyingly so. I laughed when he raised an eyebrow.
- Hansi's a whore with a heart of gold. Max could do no wrong. Ferdl (Willi Forst's character) came off as a sadist. Why did he grapple Erni's throat like he was ready to strangle her every time he kissed her? Is this what Gruber meant when he said Forst and Dietrich couldn't control their real-life chemistry? I never knew Dietrich enjoyed rough play. Erni's dad had no redeeming qualities. Neither did Erni, but we pity her because she has grown up with an absentee father. Sounds like the type of psychological rubbish you'd expect from a country that produced Freud, no?
- Money is a predominant theme in the movie. Is class indirectly a theme, too? Erni's father must be nouveau riche to make all that dough off construction, and the only person noble in spirit is Max, who must have been well-educated to have been an engineer. Also, Hansi talks about the difficulty of girls like her leaving a place like Cafe Elektric. It's true. No matter how hard Hansi tries, she can't shake the stigma of her lowly job. How Pretty Woman, and just as tasteless. That tacky porcelain doll looks like something you'd get on clearance at TJ Maxx.
- Like in The Blue Angel, the titular place is a character in this movie. Notice the frenetic dancing? Were these people electrified on something more than the music and cocktails?
- There was a time when "Black Bottom" was a dance and not Andre Leon Talley's nickname.
- The ugly whore who looked a bit like Jerri Blank from Strangers with Candy (Vera Salvotti) was a comic genius. Must see more of her.
- About the depiction of prostitution in this flick, it's only hinted. All Hansi has to do is kiss old doctors on the cheek and make cow eyes and they toss bills her way. When she first meets Max, she nods at the hotel, where I suppose she would have given him a free ride? In fact, shots of that hotel appear recurrently, and Max incorrectly assumes Hansi is awhoring when he sees her merely standing in front of it. She should have--he wasn't bringing home the bacon at the time! Erni's the film's real tramp, though. We see her go to bed with Ferdl, wake up the next day in her slip, and put on her clothes behind a screen, stretching her leg into our view and the ugly whore's view, whom Ferdl has dumped for Erni.