Release Date(s)1929 (June 8, 2021)
Studio(s)Terra Film (Kino Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B
The silent drama The Woman One Longs For was the second starring role for Marlene Dietrich in the somewhat forgotten early period of her career. Dietrich exploded into the international popular consciousness with Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel in 1932, but she had already been working steadily for ten years in the German film industry. It’s a shame that these early films have been overlooked as The Woman One Longs For is a fine example of the art of the silent cinema, and how German filmmakers in particular had evolved a visual language which reduced the need for dialogue.
The story was adapted by Ladislaus Vajda from the novel by Max Brod (the book may have been unpublished at the time, as the dates usually given for its publication are 1933 or 1934). It’s the stuff of classic melodrama: young Henri Leblanc (Uno Henning) has agreed to an arranged marriage as part of a business deal and is traveling on a train with his new wife when he is instantly attracted to the troubled Stascha (Dietrich). Stascha is trying to escape the clutches of the ominous Dr. Karoff (Fritz Kortner) but the two of them are bonded together by a dark secret, and Henri is about to get in way over his head. The narrative has a proto-noir feel, but with none of the stylistic trappings of that genre. Instead, the film’s style owes as much to German Expressionism as anything else, with obvious model trains and the environments around the characters sometimes being abstracted to guide the viewer’s eye to their faces.
Director Curtis Bernhardt may not be as well-known as other German filmmakers from the silent era such as F.W. Murnau or G.W. Pabst, but he was just as skilled at conveying drama wordlessly. There are long passages of dialogue between characters with minimal intertitles to explain what they’re saying, and yet there’s no need for more as the nature of the conversations is always clear through the visuals and the acting. Bernhardt would eventually make his way to Hollywood, directing films such as Sirocco, Miss Sadie Thompson, and Beau Brummell, but he still has never gotten the recognition that he deserves.
The Woman One Longs For is ultimately a circular tale of a man who wants to escape his relationship. He’s attracted to a woman who wants to escape hers as well with another man who helped her escape a previous relationship. But the grass is never truly greener on the other side, and happiness will always remain elusive for those who will do anything to find it.
The Woman One Longs For was shot on 35 mm film by cinematographers Curt Courant and Hans Scheib (more on that in a moment) and was framed at 1.33:1. This restoration was completed in 2012 by the F.W. Murnau Foundation along with OMNIMAGO GmbH. No details about the elements used are provided, other than the fact that they were supplied by the Federal Film Archives in Berlin. It’s safe to assume that any original negatives are long gone and that some form of a print was the primary element. While there are scratches and other damage still visible in the transfer, it’s reasonably clean for a film of this vintage. There is some flicker and the contrast can waver a bit. The blacks look deeper in certain shots more than others, and the lighter parts of the image occasionally appear washed out. For instance, facial textures are lost in a few shots where the brightness overwhelms them. That issue aside, there’s a decent amount of fine detail throughout most of the film. It isn’t as sharp and detailed as the transfer on Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray of The Battleship Potemkin, but on the other hand it’s cleaner with much less damage. It’s the inevitable tradeoff when working with surviving film elements from the silent era.
The new 2011 score by Pascal Schumacher is offered in 2.0 LCPM and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Note that while the film was released in the United States as The Three Lovers, this is the original version so all of the intertitles are in German. English subtitles are turned on by default, but they’re removable for those who don’t need them. Schumacher’s score is quite bombastic and percussive given the relatively small scale of the story, but it works surprisingly well. The stereo version offers a wider soundstage while the multichannel mix sounds narrower, but adds subtle surround ambience and a bit more punch to the bass. Both tracks are equally satisfying, but the 5.1 surround version is more preferable.
There’s only a single extra on the disc:
- Audio Commentary by Gaylyn Studlar
Professor Studlar is the program director of Film and Media Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. She tends to spend too much time describing the action on the screen, but other times she uses those descriptions as launching points to explain relevant detail. She does a nice job of placing The Woman One Longs For into its historical context, noting things like how the roving camera was a hallmark of German silent cinema, and how the montages show the influence of the Soviet school of filmmaking. She covers all of the actors, including how the film fits into the career of Marlene Dietrich and how Dietrich herself tried to elide everything in that filmography prior to The Blue Angel. Studlar speculates that it may have been due to the fact that Dietrich wanted to appear younger than she actually was by pretending that The Blue Angel was her debut. Studlar also covers director Bernhardt and his cinematographer Courant. She says that she couldn’t find any explanation for why Hans Scheib received joint cinematography credit and assumes that he was probably just the camera operator. Bonus trivia from the commentary: the author of the novel served as the executor of Franz Kafka’s estate.
The Woman One Longs For is an interesting look at Marlene Dietrich before she had fully adopted the famous persona which would guide her through the rest of her career following The Blue Angel. Yet some of that persona came naturally, and elements of it are on display in this film. Dietrich may have wanted to pretend that this phase of her career didn’t exist, but The Woman One Longs For is a worthy example of the way her commanding presence could drive any narrative.
- Stephen Bjork
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