Josef von Sternberg was a filmmaker who was born in Vienna, Austria in 1894. He moved to the United States with his family when he was a child and grew up in New York City.
In his early career, von Sternberg worked as a scriptwriter and cameraman in Hollywood before eventually becoming a director.
Von Sternberg is best known for his work during the transition from the silent era to the sound era of cinema.
He worked with many of the major studios during this time, including
One of his most notable films is the gangster movie Underworld (1927), which is considered the first serious film of its kind.
Von Sternberg’s films are known for their visual richness and photographic craftsmanship. He was particularly skilled at creating atmosphere and mood through lighting and camera angles.
He often worked with the actress Marlene Dietrich, and their collaborations, such as The Blue Angel (1930) and Morocco (1930), are considered some of the greatest films of the era.
Despite his success, von Sternberg was known for being difficult to work with and for having a strong ego.
He clashed with many of his actors and crew members, and his perfectionism often led to delays and cost overruns.
Best Josef Von Sternberg Films
Josef von Sternberg was a pioneering filmmaker who helped to shape the visual language of cinema.
His work during the transition from silent films to sound films helped to establish many of the techniques and styles that are still used in filmmaking today.
1. The Blue Angel (1930)
“The Blue Angel” is a German tragicomedy film released in 1930, directed by Josef von Sternberg and starring Emil Jannings and Marlene Dietrich.
The film is based on Heinrich Mann’s novel “Professor Unrat,” and tells the story of a respected professor who becomes infatuated with a seductive cabaret singer.
Emil Jannings plays the role of Professor Immanuel Rath, a stern and respected high school teacher who is known for his strict discipline and adherence to traditional values.
One evening, he goes to a local cabaret called “The Blue Angel” to catch some of his students who are there to watch a performance.
He becomes infatuated with Lola Lola, the star of the cabaret played by Marlene Dietrich, and soon finds himself falling under her spell.
“The Blue Angel” is known for its stunning cinematography, its depiction of the seedy underbelly of Weimar-era Germany, and the breakout performance of Marlene Dietrich, who would go on to become one of the biggest stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
The film was also notable for its frank portrayal of sexuality and the way it challenged traditional notions of masculinity and femininity.
2. The Last Command (1928)
“The Last Command” is a 1928 silent film directed by Josef von Sternberg.
The film is a historical drama that tells the story of a former Imperial Russian general who is now a Hollywood extra, and is hired to play himself in a film about the Russian Revolution.
The film is notable for its innovative use of flashbacks and for the powerful performance of Emil Jannings, who won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in the film.
The film also features Marlene Dietrich in one of her early screen appearances.
The film’s narrative structure is complex and layered, with the story of the Russian Revolution intertwined with the personal story of the protagonist.
The film also features a powerful critique of the Hollywood studio system and the use of propaganda in film.
“The Last Command” is a visually stunning film, with powerful and iconic images of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath.
The film’s use of lighting and shadow, as well as its use of costume and set design, create a sense of grandeur and spectacle that elevates the film beyond a simple historical drama.
Overall, “The Last Command” is a powerful and innovative film that continues to be admired for its technical and artistic achievements.
3. Shanghai Express (1932)
“Shanghai Express” is a classic film directed by Josef von Sternberg and released in 1932. Here are a few reasons why you should watch this film:
It’s a Classic Hollywood Film: “Shanghai Express” is considered a classic Hollywood film, and it features some of the most famous stars of the time, including Marlene Dietrich and Anna May Wong.
The film’s production values are also impressive, with lavish sets, costumes, and cinematography.
Marlene Dietrich’s Performance: Marlene Dietrich’s performance in “Shanghai Express” is one of the highlights of the film.
She plays a glamorous and enigmatic character named Shanghai Lily, who becomes embroiled in a complicated romantic relationship with her former lover, played by Clive Brook.
Dietrich’s performance is powerful and captivating, and her presence on screen adds an extra layer of allure to the film.
Overall, “Shanghai Express” is a classic Hollywood film with an engaging plot, impressive production values, and a standout performance from Marlene Dietrich.
If you enjoy classic cinema or are interested in the early days of Hollywood, this film is definitely worth checking out.
4. Blonde Venus (1932)
“Blonde Venus” is a 1932 American drama film directed by Josef von Sternberg and starring Marlene Dietrich in the lead role.
The film tells the story of a young mother who becomes a cabaret singer to support her family after her husband falls ill with radium poisoning. Here are some key characteristics of the film:
Exploration of gender and sexuality: “Blonde Venus” is notable for its exploration of gender and sexuality.
The film features a strong female protagonist who takes charge of her own life and sexuality, a theme that was highly unusual for its time.
The film also contains several scenes that have been interpreted as homoerotic, suggesting a fluidity of sexual identity that was highly unusual for a Hollywood film of the 1930s.
Musical numbers: The film also features several musical numbers, which are a central part of the story. Dietrich’s performance of the song “Hot Voodoo” has become one of the film’s most memorable and iconic moments.
Overall, “Blonde Venus” is a complex and highly influential film that explores themes of gender and sexuality, critiques American society, and features a highly stylized visual style.
The film remains a classic of early Hollywood cinema and a testament to the talents of its director and star.
5. The Scarlet Empress (1934)
“The Scarlet Empress” is a historical drama film directed by Josef von Sternberg, released in 1934. The film stars Marlene Dietrich as Catherine the Great, the German-born princess who became Empress of Russia.
The movie tells the story of Catherine’s rise to power, from her innocent beginnings in a German court to her transformation into a ruthless leader willing to do whatever it takes to secure her place on the throne.
The film’s stunning visuals are a hallmark of von Sternberg’s work, with intricate sets and costumes that transport the viewer back to 18th-century Russia.
The film’s dark, moody lighting creates a foreboding atmosphere that reflects the brutal nature of Catherine’s rise to power.
Marlene Dietrich gives a memorable performance as Catherine, delivering a complex portrayal of a woman who is both vulnerable and determined, seductive and brutal.
The supporting cast includes John Davis Lodge as Catherine’s lover, Count Alexei, and Sam Jaffe as the mad monk who helps Catherine secure the throne.
Overall, “The Scarlet Empress” is a visually stunning and emotionally intense film that showcases the talents of both von Sternberg and Dietrich. It’s a must-see for fans of historical dramas and classic Hollywood cinema.
6. The Shanghai Gesture (1941)
“The Shanghai Gesture” is a 1941 film noir directed by Josef von Sternberg and starring Gene Tierney, Walter Huston, and Victor Mature.
The film is set in Shanghai in the 1930s and follows the story of a wealthy American woman who becomes embroiled in a world of opium dens, gambling, and betrayal.
Gene Tierney plays the role of Poppy, the daughter of a wealthy American businessman who is drawn to the exotic and seedy world of Shanghai.
She becomes infatuated with the handsome gambler Doctor Omar, played by Victor Mature, and becomes a regular at Mother Gin Sling’s opium den, where she becomes embroiled in a web of deception and intrigue.
Walter Huston plays the role of Sir Guy Charteris, a British diplomat who is also caught up in the world of Mother Gin Sling’s gambling den.
As the tension between Poppy and Mother Gin Sling, played by Ona Munson, grows, Sir Guy is forced to take sides in a dangerous game of power and manipulation.
“The Shanghai Gesture” is notable for its depiction of the seedy and dangerous underbelly of Shanghai in the 1930s, and for its portrayal of characters who are willing to do whatever it takes to get what they want.
The film is also known for its lavish and exotic set design, as well as for its use of chiaroscuro lighting and moody atmosphere, which contribute to the overall sense of intrigue and danger.
7. Morocco (1930)
Morocco” is a 1930 romantic drama film directed by Josef von Sternberg, starring Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper.
The film tells the story of a young woman named Amy Jolly (Dietrich) who is working as a nightclub performer in Morocco, and falls in love with a wealthy and handsome Legionnaire named Tom Brown (Cooper).
Here are three characteristics of “Morocco”:
The film’s use of lighting and shadow: “Morocco” is known for its striking visual style, which is characterized by its use of light and shadow.
The film features a number of iconic images, such as the famous shot of Marlene Dietrich in men’s clothing, with her face partially obscured by a hat.
The film’s portrayal of gender and sexuality: “Morocco” is notable for its exploration of gender and sexuality, particularly in its depiction of Marlene Dietrich’s character, Amy Jolly.
The film’s critique of colonialism and imperialism: “Morocco” is set in the context of French colonialism in North Africa, and the film features several scenes that critique the racism and exploitation that were endemic to the colonial system.
In particular, the film highlights the experiences of the local Moroccan people, who are often treated with disdain and disrespect by the French characters.
8. The Docks of New York (1928)
“The Docks of New York” is a silent film directed by Josef von Sternberg and released in 1928. Here are a few reasons why you should watch this film:
A Classic Silent Film: “The Docks of New York” is a classic example of the silent film era, with all the hallmarks of the genre, including expressive camera work, exaggerated acting, and creative use of intertitles.
The film’s black-and-white visuals are stunning, and the absence of sound forces the viewer to pay attention to every nuance of the film.
A Gritty Urban Drama: The film takes place on the rough-and-tumble docks of New York, where the characters are struggling to survive in a harsh environment.
The film’s story is a gritty urban drama, filled with heartbreak, desperation, and tragedy. It’s a powerful and emotional film that showcases the struggles of working-class people in early 20th-century America.
Josef von Sternberg’s Direction: Josef von Sternberg was a master of visual storytelling, and “The Docks of New York” is a prime example of his talent.
The film is beautifully shot, with moody and atmospheric cinematography that perfectly captures the seedy, industrial atmosphere of the docks.
The film’s pacing and editing are also top-notch, creating a sense of tension and urgency throughout.
Overall, “The Docks of New York” is a classic silent film that tells a powerful and emotional story set in a gritty urban environment.
The film’s stunning visuals, gritty atmosphere, and masterful direction make it a must-see for fans of classic cinema.
9. Underworld (1927)
“Underworld” is a silent American film directed by Josef von Sternberg and released in 1927.
It tells the story of a gangster named “Bull” Weed (played by George Bancroft) who falls in love with a beautiful young woman named “Feathers” McCoy (played by Evelyn Brent). Here are some key characteristics of the film:
Expressionistic visuals: “Underworld” is characterized by its striking and innovative use of expressionistic visuals.
The film uses dramatic lighting, shadows, and exaggerated camera angles to create a moody and stylized atmosphere that heightens the tension and drama of the story.
Portrayal of the criminal underworld: The film is also notable for its portrayal of the criminal underworld. “Underworld” was one of the first films to explore the world of gangsters and organized crime, and it had a significant influence on subsequent crime films.
Overall, “Underworld” is a groundbreaking and influential film that blends elements of crime, romance, and melodrama to create a unique and powerful cinematic experience.
The film remains a classic of the silent era and a testament to the talents of its director and cast.
10. Crime and Punishment (1935)
“Crime and Punishment” is a 1935 film directed by Josef von Sternberg, based on the classic novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky.
The film stars Peter Lorre as Raskolnikov, a poor, desperate student who murders a pawnbroker and her sister in order to prove his own superiority and intelligence.
As Raskolnikov’s guilt and paranoia mount, he begins to unravel, leading to a dramatic climax.
The film’s visual style is stark and moody, with heavy shadows and sharp contrasts that reflect Raskolnikov’s tortured psyche.
Lorre gives a powerful performance as the disturbed protagonist, portraying both his intellectual arrogance and his growing sense of moral decay.
The supporting cast includes Edward Arnold as Inspector Porfiry, who doggedly pursues Raskolnikov, and Marian Marsh as Sonya, a prostitute who befriends Raskolnikov.
“Crime and Punishment” was not a critical or commercial success at the time of its release, but has since come to be regarded as a classic of both film noir and literary adaptation.
The film’s exploration of guilt, redemption, and the nature of justice remains relevant and powerful to this day.
3 Characteristics of Josef Von Sternberg Films
Josef von Sternberg was a film director who worked during the early years of Hollywood and made films between the 1920s and the 1950s.
His films were known for their stylized and often melodramatic approach, and they frequently explored themes of power, sexuality, and obsession. Here are three characteristics that are often associated with his films:
Visual Style: Von Sternberg was known for his stunning visual style, which often featured elaborate set design, ornate costumes, and the use of shadows and lighting to create a sense of atmosphere and mood.
His films were often shot in a way that emphasized their artificiality and theatricality, with an emphasis on stylized compositions and dramatic camera movements.
Strong Female Characters: Von Sternberg was known for his portrayals of strong, independent female characters, often played by actresses such as Marlene Dietrich and Louise Brooks.
These characters were often depicted as being in control of their own destinies, and they were frequently shown as being more powerful and dynamic than the men around them.
Themes of Obsession: Many of Von Sternberg’s films explore themes of obsession, often centered around a character who becomes fixated on an idea or person to the point of self-destruction.
This can be seen in films like “The Blue Angel” and “Shanghai Express,” which both feature characters who become obsessed with a particular woman, and in “The Last Command,”
which explores the obsession of a former Russian general with the power and authority of his former position.
3 Reasons Why You Should Watch Josef Von Sternberg Films
osef von Sternberg was a prolific film director known for his distinctive visual style and his collaborations with actress Marlene Dietrich. Here are three reasons why you should watch his films:
Innovative Visual Style: Sternberg was known for his innovative use of lighting, shadow, and camera angles to create visually stunning images. His films often feature intricate set designs and costumes that add to the film’s visual appeal. Watching his films can give you a glimpse into the artistry and craftsmanship that goes into creating a great film.
Influential Films: Sternberg’s films were highly influential in the development of cinema, particularly in the areas of film noir and expressionism. His films often explored themes of obsession, power, and desire, and his use of non-linear narrative techniques was ahead of its time. Watching his films can give you a deeper understanding of the history of cinema and its evolution over time.
Collaboration with Marlene Dietrich: Sternberg and Dietrich’s collaborations resulted in some of the most iconic films of the 1930s, such as “Morocco” and “The Blue Angel”. Dietrich’s performances in these films are often cited as some of the best in cinematic history, and the films themselves have had a lasting impact on popular culture. Watching these films can give you a greater appreciation for the artistry of both Sternberg and Dietrich, and their enduring influence on cinema.
Best Josef Von Sternberg Films – Wrapping Up
Here are some of the best films directed by Josef von Sternberg:
The Blue Angel (1930)
Shanghai Express (1932)
The Scarlet Empress (1934)
Blonde Venus (1932)
The Last Command (1928)
The Devil Is a Woman (1935)
These films showcase von Sternberg’s visual style and artistic vision, and feature strong performances from some of Hollywood’s most iconic stars, such as Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper, and Anna May Wong. They are considered classics of the Golden Age of Hollywood and are highly influential in the development of film noir and other cinematic genres.
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