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Blonde Venus

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Title: Blonde Venus  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Cary Grant, She Done Him Wrong, Hattie McDaniel, Marlene Dietrich, 1932 in film, List of fictional music groups, Josef von Sternberg, Sam Coslow, Sterling Holloway, Richard A. Whiting
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Blonde Venus

Blonde Venus
French film poster for contemporary "classics" series
Directed by Josef von Sternberg
Produced by Josef von Sternberg
Written by Jules Furthman
S. K. Lauren
Starring Marlene Dietrich
Herbert Marshall
Cary Grant
Music by W. Franke Harling
John Leipold
Paul Marquardt
Richard A. Whiting
Sam Coslow
Ralph Rainger
Leo Robin
Oscar Potoker
Cinematography Bert Glennon
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • September¬†16,¬†1932¬†(1932-09-16) (U.S.)
Running time 93 min.
Country United States
Language English

Blonde Venus is a 1932 pre-Code drama film starring Marlene Dietrich, Herbert Marshall, and Cary Grant. The movie was produced and directed for Paramount Pictures by Josef von Sternberg with a screenplay by Jules Furthman and S. K. Lauren adapted from a story by Furthman and von Sternberg. The music score was by W. Franke Harling, John Leipold, Paul Marquardt and Oscar Potoker, and the cinematography by Bert Glennon.

Dietrich performs three musical numbers in this film, including the now-obscure "You Little So-and-So" (music and lyrics by Sam Coslow and Leo Robin) and "I Couldn't Be Annoyed" (music and lyrics by Leo Robin and Richard A. Whiting). The highlight is perhaps "Hot Voodoo" (music by Ralph Rainger, lyrics by Sam Coslow), which is nearly 8 minutes long and mostly instrumental, featuring jazz trumpet and drums. Dietrich sings the lyrics toward the end of this sequence, which takes place in a nightclub.

This movie predates She Done Him Wrong by a year, although Mae West claimed to have discovered Cary Grant for that film, elaborating that up until then Grant had only made "some tests with starlets", an assertion rejected by some other actresses, including Sylvia Sidney.


The movie begins with 7 American students traveling in Germany. They stop at a pond and see 6 girls (who all work for a theater) bathing. The girls see the students and attempt to conceal themselves (as they were unclothed). One of the girls, Helen (Dietrich), asks them to go away, to which one of the guys, Ned (Marshall), respond by saying no.

The movie then shifts to years later, showing a mother bathing a boy, telling him to hurry since his Dad is coming home soon. The mother and the boy turn out to be Ned's wife and son. We then see a man entering a doctor's office, offering to sell his body. This turns out to be Ned, who is an American chemist poisoned with Radium, expecting to die within the year. The doctor tells him that there is a famous German doctor who has had success treating radiation poison and recommends Ned to travel to Germany. It would cost him approximately $1500 and he would have to go for six months.

That night. before bed time, the son, Johnny, asks his mother and Ned to tell him the "Germany story." The story is a combination of dialogue between the mother and Ned, beginning with Ned telling Johnny about his travel in Germany as a student and his encounter of "six beautiful princesses at a pond," one of whom told Ned that she will grant him a wish if he leaves. Ned wished to see her again, and that very night, Ned went to the local theater, spotting the "princess" on the stage. Johnny then asks his mother what the princess thought of Ned, to which she responds that she wanted to see him again. After the show, Ned asked "the princess" for a walk, and while under a tree, embraced her. The "princess" turns out to be Helen, whom Ned marries after his real-life encounter with her.

Johnny then falls asleep, and Ned and Helen discuss the possibility of having Ned travel to Germany for treatment. It is very evident that Ned loves Helen and wishes not to leave her, and at the same time, the entire treatment and travel are very expensive, to which the couple couldn't find ways to finance. Helen then thinks of the idea of "going on stage" again. Although Ned was absolutely against that idea, Helen went back to performing as a cabaret performer anyway, hoping to find the means to help her husband.

Helen finds work at a night club and befriends a fellow cabaret girl "Taxi" who is of obvious lower class than Helen. She informs Helen about Nick Townsend, (Cary Grant) a famous millionaire, politician who is a regular at the club and who gave her expensive jewelry for "favors."

Helen turns out to be a great, flamboyant singer with an unmistakable mystique, given her German accent. She attracted great attention in her first performance (in which she is required to don an ape suit and take the head-part off dramatically, shaking her blonde curls.) Within the audience is Nick Townsend, who is confident, attractive man. Evidently, Nick is interested in Helen, and after the show, asked to go back stage to meet her. He found out about her family troubles and Helen mentioned "Taxi" and the jewelry but Nick said there was nothing between them. Nick was obviously flirting with Helen and treated her as an upper class lady. The scene cuts to where Nick is writing a check for $300 for Helen, and the audience is left wondering if she conducted "a little favor" for him or not.

Eventually Helen accumulates enough money to fund Ned's treatment and she lied to Ned about how she got the money, saying that the producer "paid her in advance." She then asks if Ned "loves her," to which Ned replies, "Do I love you? Oh you silly little thing," then embraces her.

The next day, Johnny and Helen see Ned off to Germany at the ship docks.

Nick shows up to give Helen a ride home, much to her irritation. Nick gives Johnny a puppy, to which Johnny asks could I keep him?" Nick then said he had a friend with an apartment in which she and Johnny can stay all summer, thereby sparing her from working again. Nick calls her manager and informs her that Helen is quitting and she has no contract with him. To escape her producer (who since Helen's initial success has been tracking her down for more performances), Helen begins to live at "his friend's apartment." She eventually developing feelings for him although she is resourceful. When she finds out Ned is returning she realizes how much she is attracted to Nick and finally admits to Nick that she loves him. Yet, she tells Nick that she must go back to Ned, since he isn't "as strong" as Nick is therefore he needs her more than Nick does.

Before Ned is to return, she goes on a two week trip with Nick, both believing that it would be their final moments together. Ned, however, returns two days early, finding his home empty with neighbors informing him that they haven't seen Helen nor Johnny for two weeks. Ned begins to chase down clues, ultimately finding out that his wife has quit her job and been seen with Nick.

Helen comes back from her trip and bids Nick farewell. (Nick informs Helen he would travel to Europe to "forget about Helen.") Helen returns home and was dismayed to discover that Ned is already there -- and that she failed to see a telegram warning of his arrival simply because she was Nick.

Helen implies to Ned of her infidelity, saying that she has been "untrue" to him and lied to him about the money and said it was the only way to get him his treatment. Ned is very angry and tells her he is going to pay her back and wishes he had never met her. Helen says she wants to 'come back' and adds, "if you'll have me." Ned tells her to "clear out", calling her a rotten mother. Ned threatens to take her to court for custody of Johnny. Ned demands that she bring Johnny into the room, she agrees momentarily, but later grabs Johnny and escapes, and ends up living on the run. Ned reports their disappearance to the police, who then begin to track her.

Helen finally identifies a detective after running from city to city working here and there including a farm where she befriends a Black housekeeper who senses some man outside is a detective. The detective starts a conversation with Helen telling her about his problematic chase, and even has a beer with her. Helen takes him to her room and eventually Johnny comes out and the detective figures it out; Helen turns herself in voluntarily. They take the train back to Ned and home.

Helen realizes that life on the run is not right for Johnny and agrees to give him to Ned. Ned asks her to never see him or Johnny again.

After a dramatic breakdown after her separation with Johnny, Helen begins to officially sing in cabarets, making a successful career that eventually brought her to Paris. In a fateful performance, she runs into Nick, who continues to profess his feelings for Helen. Nick knows that Helen loves Johnny and wishes to see him again. He offers to take her back to the U.S., and the two return engaged to be married.

Helen comes home and sees her son, Johnny, who is still unaware of his mother's engagement to Nick. Johnny asks his mother to tell him the "Germany story" again, since Ned had refused to tell it because he "has forgotten it." Johnny then proceeds to tell the story himself, asking his parents to verify. He begins by asking Ned if he was in Germany as a student and if he saw a pond with "six beautiful princesses," to which Ned responds, "I was sentimental and foolish back then." But through this forced dialogue with Johnny telling the story, Ned and Helen begin to realize what their separation means for Johnny, who still lives in his own world in which his parents are together.

Helen then sings to Johnny the song that she sang before he sleeps every night (the lyric of this song is a poem by Heinrich Heine). During the song, the audience sees a close-up of the music-playing carousel, a ceramic music box merry-go-round that we see at the beginning of the film with the first bed-time story. This is symbolic and contains a poignant moment where both Helen and Ned realize that this home is where they both belong.


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