‘The Blue Angel’ with Marlene Dietrich and Emil Jannings

“The Blue Angel” directed by Josef von Sternberg was released in 1930 and, as Wikipedia describes it, ” presents the tragic transformation of a respectable professor to a cabaret clown and his descent into madness.” It’s often called a comedy-drama, but that seems based on short moments of humor in a film that shows how easy it is for a man to walk into a cabaret for innocent reasons and end up being corrupted by the predators there. Two versions of the film were made, one in German with English subtitles and one in English. The English version is an inferior production in part because speaking in fractured English completely destroys the atmosphere of the film.

I probably shouldn’t have told my daughter during our Thanksgiving visit that “The Blue Angel” is one of my favorite films. We had been talking about my love of noir films and movies with nasty characters like “The Little Foxes.” She hadn’t seen most of those I mentioned so I told her if she wants to see rock-bottom depravity (and, I mean, who doesn’t?) she should check out Marlene Dietrich’s and Emil Jannings’ performances in this film. As a writer, I often consider the workings of the dark side and how easy it is to become enamored of it until it kills you.

Of the film, the late Roger Ebert wrote, “‘The Blue Angel’ looks and feels more like a silent film, with its broad performances that underline emotions. Von Sternberg, who was raised in Europe and America and began his career in Hollywood, was much influenced by German expressionism, as we see in early street scenes where the buildings tilt toward each other at crazy angles reminiscent of ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.’ He was a bold visual artist who liked shots where the actors shared space with foreground props and dramatic shadows, and he makes the dressing room beneath the stage of the Blue Angel nightclub into a haunting psychic dungeon.”

Lola Lola

While he went on to make additional films with Dietrich, I see this as their best collaboration in part because of those “broad Performances” that Ebert mentions, That sweet song “Falling in Love Again (Can’t Help It)” is a haunting and chilling refrain behind the characters, especially Dietrich, a complex individual who brought those complexities to her work. She worked with von Sternberg in  “Morocco,” “Dishonored,” “Shanghai Express,” “Blonde Venus,” “The Scarlet Empress,” and “The Devil Is a Woman” among other films.

Thomas Caldwell writes that “The vampish woman (Lola Lola) is a force of powerful sexuality, which is aligned with the deadly forces of nature (her animal print costumes and the exoticness of The Blue Angel club) and otherness. Professor Immanuel Rath is the lonely and sympathetic male aligned with civilisation (he is a respected teacher) who falls prey to her untamed femininity.  Although by today’s standards the symbolism is inappropriate, the scene where Rath wakes up with a black doll represents the dark and mysterious foreignness of Lola Lola that is alluring yet ultimately dangerous and unattainable. Dietrich’s portrayal of Lola Lola would be extremely influential in the creation of the femme fatale personae that dominated the Hollywood film noir cycle of films.” 

The professor cannot help himself. That’s the message I see here as well as the danger of “everyday people” walking into a cabaret or bar where the rules are different and without mercy.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Special Investigative reporter,” a novel about a jaded reporter who sees the dark side in the news of the day,



Voice-over monologue in film noir

Film noir is famous for its sarcastic, metaphor-filled voice-over monologue that often shows just how cynical the protagonist is about life. I thought of this while re-reading Ruta Sepetys Out of the Easy which gets the style and ambiance of the New Orleans French Quarter just right. I appreciate this line about Willie, the bordello madam: “The voice was thick and had mileage on it.”

One of my favorite lines comes from the former TV series “Early Edition” (1996-2000) about a guy who knows stuff because he gets the newspaper a day early: “The fog was as thick as hash-house oatmeal and twice as cold.”

Two silhouetted figures in The Big Combo (1955). The film’s cinematographer, John Alton, was the creator of many of film noir’s stylized images. – Wikipedia

As “Private Eye Monologue” says, “The signature narration style in Film Noir. A bored-looking, world-weary, the utterly cynical detective (hardboiled and/or defective) with his feet on the desk meets a Femme Fatale, while the voiceover gives us his mental play-by-play:” She walked through my door like a tigress walks into a Burmese orphanage — strawberry blonde and legs for hours. No dame her age could afford a coat like that, and the kinda makeup she had on gave me a good idea how she got it. She had bad news written on her like October of ’29.

The 1946 film “The Big Sleep”(Bogart and Bacall) by Raymond Chandler/William Faulkner, and others, is one of the more enduring noir films because of the stars, author, and director, Howard Hawkes. Chandler’s lines are memorable within the genre: “Dead men are heavier than broken hearts,” “I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners. They’re pretty bad. I grieve over them during the long winter nights,” and “Neither of the two people in the room paid any attention to the way I came in, although only one of them was dead.”

Wikipedia describes Night and the City as “a 1950  film noir directed by Jules Dassin and starring Richard Widmark, Gene Tierney and Googie Withers. It is based on the novel of the same name by Gerald Kersh. Shot on location in London and at Shepperton Studios, the plot revolves around an ambitious hustler who meets continuous failures.” One can’t help but notice: This is like the Greyhound station for DEATH!

From “Murder, My Sweet,” we get: “Okay Marlowe,” I said to myself, ‘You’re a tough guy. You’ve been sapped twice, choked, beaten silly with a gun, shot in the arm until you’re crazy as a couple of waltzing mice. Now let’s see you do something really tough—like putting your pants on.’

From the “Lady from Shanghai”: “Maybe I’ll live so long that I’ll forget her. Maybe I’ll die trying.”

And “Key Largo” “When your head says one thing and your whole life says another, your head always loses.”

According to Wikipedia, “Farewell, My Lovely is a novel by Raymond Chandler, published in 1940, the second novel he wrote featuring the Los Angeles private eye Philip Marlowe. It was adapted for the screen three times and was also adapted for the stage and radio.” I like the 1975 version (classified more as neo-noir) with Robert Mitchum the best: “It was one of those transient motels, something between a fleabag and a dive” and Moose never would have hurt her. It didn’t matter to him that she hadn’t written in 6 years. It didn’t matter that she turned him in for a reward. The big lug loved her… and if he was still alive… it wouldn’t matter to him that she’d pumped 3 bullets into him… What a world.”

There’s no way to sum all this up except to say that anyone who loves noir has already gone over to the dark side.


Mama don’t allow no Oscar commentary ’round here

If I stay within the context of the song, I’ll say, “We don’t care what mama don’t allow. were’ we’re gonna bash those Oscars anyhow.”

Assuming I’m in a mood to be fair, I’ll have to confess I didn’t watch the Academy Awards last night–or for years, truth be told.

I stopped watching years ago because the show was: (a) too long, and, (b) filled with snarky, politically correct preaching. Talk about movies and the arts and stay away from politics, I want to say. But–I think you can guess this–nobody asked me.

I heard that the powers that be messed with the show’s format last night, including where the songs appeared and the order in which the winners were announced. Every year there’s some outrage like this which, I supposed, could add another reason (“c” for those keeping count) why I don’t watch the show. And then, too, every year somebody supposedly gets snubbed. I’m staying away from that one this year.

I’m very hard of hearing, so I can’t hear movies shown in a theater. This means that when the Oscars are awarded, I haven’t seen most of the movies and–should the powers that be–not show any clips from those movies during the show, I’m completely in the dark. Sooner or later, I see most of the good stuff on TV with captions and cheaper popcorn.

So now that all the hoopla and hype has come and gone, I can breathe easier until the next awards show comes along and pre-empts all the stuff I’d rather be watching. Sorry, mama, but I can’t resist saying that the world would be better off if the Oscars were awarded without TV coverage in an abandoned warehouse in Omaha.


Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing


Facebook Author’s Page

Amazon Author’s Page

Favorite movies fading into the past

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby

One thing I’ve noticed while growing older is that many of the films I thought would be remembered for all time are more or less unknown to everyone under thirty.

The TCM Channel on DISH shows a lot of these old films, my favorites generally being those on the Noir Alley segment. I find that only film aficionados have heard of most of the films and actors I like and “grew up with.”

Today’s films attract attention. I think every generation has probably felt this way. So, when I mention on Facebook that my wife and I watched such and such, the general reaction is “say what?” or “who is Burt Lancaster?”

I liked the 1960s drama “Elmer Gantry,” for example. It did well even though it didn’t contain much of Sinclair Lewis’ book. Today, the movie is more or less unknown along with many others that included Burt Lancaster and that were well received.

My parents used to talk about old movies, but since they weren’t readily available on cable and satellite TV channels then, I never had a chance to see most of them when I was young. Now I can see them long after my parents are gone.

I wish I could have watched some of my parents’ favorite movies while my parents were alive. I’m not sure that today’s young people will care much about the movies and books my generation liked while growing up. Today’s memories seem shorter, less concerned with “the old days,” and more focused on this moment.

That’s okay, I guess, but also sad as some of the best we knew fades into the mists of time.


Everything we write is fleeting, here today and gone tomorrow, and yet, it’s still there waiting for readers.




Just as I am

“Just As I Am is my truth. It is me, plain and unvarnished, with the glitter and garland set aside. In these pages, I am indeed Cicely, the actress who has been blessed to grace the stage and screen for six decades. Yet I am also the church girl who once rarely spoke a word. I am the teenager who sought solace in the verses of the old hymn for which this book is named. I am a daughter and mother, a sister, and a friend. I am an observer of human nature and the dreamer of audacious dreams. I am a woman who has hurt as immeasurably as I have loved, a child of God divinely guided by His hand. And here in my ninth decade, I am a woman who, at long last, has something meaningful to say.” –Cicely Tyson

The scenes with Cicely Tyson and Viola Davis in the TV series “How to Get Away With Murder” were raw, unyielding, and true. Before that, Tyson walked many miles in many roles since most of us became aware of her in “Sounder” (1972) and “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” (1974), after some nice roles in the 1960s.

She was the actress I most wanted to meet, not outside some stage door, but at a gathering where we could talk because, in her eyes, I saw wisdom that–now that we lost her January 28th–I hope to find in Just as I Am.

Long-time actors and actresses have much to tell us, partly from their exposure to so many roles and to the business of making plays and movies, but also from finding a way out of hard-times beginnings to success. In many ways, one can see the soul and experience of a performer in the way s/he presents his/her most difficult roles.

If you can find the episodes (possibly on YouTube) of “How to Get Away With Murder” with Tyson that aired (I think) during the series’ two final years you will find her best work of late and understand why authors and others could have learned so much from her had she taught a class.

“I never really worked for money,” she said in her last interview. “I’ve worked because there were certain issues that I wish were addressed about myself and my race as a Black woman.”

She certainly did that,


Old People, Still Here, God Love ’em

I confess: I’m among those who see obituaries on Facebook and news sites for famous people and think, “I thought s/he was already dead.”

I can look on AARP Magazine’s “Big5-Oh” page and see that a lot of old people are still here. In the current issue I learned that Mary J. Blige is 50, Julia-Louis Dreyfus is 60, Wayne Gretzky is 60, Phil Collins is 70, Joan Baez is 80, Faye Dunaway is 80, and James Earl Jones is 90.

I also learned that, at 86, Sophia Loren–the sexy heartthrob of my high school years–is starring as Madame Rosa in the Netflix movie “The Life Ahead.”

According to Wikipedia, “Madam Rosa is a former prostitute and Holocaust survivor. She provides childcare for the children of “working women.” After a 12-year old Senegalese street kid robs her, she reluctantly agrees to take him in. They develop a deep bond and she tries to help him find his way in life, as he learns she is both a Holocaust survivor and an ex-prostitute.”

Roger Ebert.com says, “Loren inhabits the role of Madame Rosa as if it was written for her. (You can see why Ponti wanted to remake it for her). Bringing to the table her lifetime of experience, talent, and sense of truth, Loren’s Madame Rosa is alternately warm and cranky, imperious and funny, strong and fragile. Madame Rosa has led a hard life, and it shows in her face, her actions, but she is still capable of acts of great generosity. Madame Rosa often goes into fugue states when the trauma of her past gets to be too much. She retreats from the everyday world. In those moments, Loren seems truly broken, staring into space, unreachable. When feeling comes up in her, it’s so sharp and immediate it seems to surprise even her.”  

Oh good, she’s still “got it.”


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Fate’s Arrows,” available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book.

Nervously watching ‘The Queen’s Gambit’

As I watched “The Queen’s Gambit” about an orphan chess prodigy named Beth Harmon in the miniseries on Netflix, I kept thinking about Bobby Fischer whom I think was the United States’ best chess player ever. He, too, was a prodigy and after achieving great things in chess, things went badly for him. From a layperson’s viewpoint, he became (or possibly always was) a psychological mess. And we all watched him self-destruct.

There are two gifted people in my family. One is gone. One struggles on. Like those I’ve read about, they were and are at odds with life itself. Anya Taylor-Joy does a wonderful job portraying a fictional gifted child who becomes a prodigy and achieves great things in chess.

She has huge issues with alcohol and drugs and implodes occasionally throughout the series into multi-day episodes that might well end her life and career. As the episodes moved toward the all-important-big-game finish, I came to dread the ending of the series because, having imploded during one big match, Harmon seemed likely to implode again.

The series was so well done, I expected to see the main character fall apart, Bobby-Fischer-like before all was said and done.  I’ll give you no spoilers here, but the ending was better than I expected.

I fear for the gifted child. I have seen several up close and nobody knew what to do with them, much less how to save them. If you like drama, whether you play chess or not, this is a wonderful series. And yet, it will haunt me because it reminds me of people I have known.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of multiple magical realism, contemporary fantasy, and paranormal novels and short stories. The most recent is “Fate’s Arrows.”

Let’s hear it for Ma Rainey

While my contemporaries were listening to Elvis and the Beatles, I was listening to folk music and the blues. So, of course, I heard Ma Rainey songs and wondered what it would have been like to see one of her over-the-top, gravel-voiced performances in person. Sadly, not possible since the “Mother of the Blues” died here in Rome, Georgia before I was born.

As I wrote my Florida Folk Magic Series of novels about a Florida conjure woman, I heard the blues inside my head and wished the cost of getting permission to include the words of still-copyrighted songs wasn’t more than I could afford. Yet, the series of novels is built on the blues and the lives one led to understand and experience and play the blues. And, Ma Rainey.

As Wikipedia explains, The singer began performing as a teenager and became known as Ma Rainey after her marriage to Will Rainey, in 1904. They toured with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels and later formed their own group, Rainey and Rainey, Assassinators of the Blues. Her first recording was made in 1923. In the next five years, she made over 100 recordings, including “Bo-Weevil Blues” (1923), “Moonshine Blues” (1923), “See See Rider Blues” (1924), “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (1927), and “Soon This Morning” (1927).”

Needless to say, I’m looking forward to “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” coming December 18th on Netflix. As I said on Facebook after seeing the trailer, Viola Davis appears to be exceptional in the role, one that’s quite a bit different than the character we saw in her TV show “How to Get Away With Murder.” Before any of you embarrass yourselves by asking why anyone would make a movie about Ma Rainey’s butt, I should point out that the title refers to a dance, not human anatomy even though Rainey’s persona and many of her songs radiated sex.

My fantasy while writing the four novels in the series was that Davis’ production company would find the books, put an option on them, and produce them with Davis playing the conjure woman. Seeing her in the Ma Rainey role tells me she would have been a very convincing Eulalie.

I’ve got my fingers crossed that the movie lives up to its trailer and the early reviews.


You can buy all four novels in the folk magic series in the so-called Kindle boxed set.

When Bond, James Bond, Reaches the Pearly Gates

He will throw his hat on the right-hand gate post, engage in light-hearted banter with Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), tell M (Barnard Lee) that everything he did in this life was for Queen and country, and then slip downstairs to tell Q (Desmond Llewelyn) that all the equipment he destroyed was the price the U.K. had to pay to get the bad guys.

James Bond (Sean Connery) is gone now, but he’s about to learn he’s being sent back because there’s more work to be done. The Queen demands it and Miss Moneypenny admits she wants to be shaken and not stirred. M has the paperwork ready to go and Q has something called a Delorean with a special flux capacitor.

“Do be careful with the motor car or you’ll end up in the year you just left,” Q will caution him.

“The powers that be would have me bang to rights then,” Bond will say.

“Only a gobshite would do that,” Q will say, “so since that means you’ll do it, I’ve added a few special features.”

“I read the owner’s manual later,” Bond will inform him.

Q will shrug because the world always spins in the wrong direction when Bond gets a new toy.

Both Q and M know that the Queen loves James and would have married him if he’d come from a proper family. Hence, he can do what he wants even if it’s a bit messy.

The bad guys don’t have a chance.


A bunch of stuff for Sunday

  • We’re all looking for ways to cope with pandemic anxiety. You may find this free workbook from the Jung Center to be of help.
  • Several things have helped me cope. First, I don’t have to leave the house often. Also, I have chores (like mowing the yard) and enjoyable work (a new novel in progress). As you get older, you’ll discover that even with a riding mower, cutting the grass is a multi-day project. One day to cut it and several days to recover from all the aches and pains that arise from riding over a fairly rough yard that was part of a farm several years ago.
  • I’m re-reading Jeff Shaara’s historical novel A Chain of Thunder about Grant and Sherman’s siege of Vicksburg. Vicksburg is often overlooked by those who study the Civil War because the battle ended one day (July 4, 1863) after the Battle of Gettysburg (July 3, 1863). Both were important Union victories, but Vicksburg was far away in what was in those days called “The West” and Gettysburg was close at hand.
  • I know all of you have been waiting with bated breath for news about the pot roast I mentioned recently in my slow cooker post. It came out great. We’ll finish it at supper tonight: that means I’m not spending the afternoon in a hot kitchen. My wife grilled some asparagus for a tasty side dish.
  • With most of our regular TV shows done for the season, we have been turning once again to old movies. In addition to Netflix, we find many of them on Turner Classic Movies which is part of our basic package on DISH. The Noir Alley films air at midnight on Saturday. (We archive them to view later.) Many of TCM’s movies are introduced by hosts who provide a little background. I especially like Noir Alley’s Eddie Muller because he provides interesting facts about the movies, directors, stars, and trends before and after the films.
  • A favorite author of mine said she has a new book coming out soon. I can’t tell you who she is or the name of the book because it’s not yet in release and if I mention it here before the publisher announces it, there will be hell to pay. Fresh hell, probably.


My novel Mountain Song is free on Kindle through the end of the day today.