Last night I saw "Dishonored" (1931) one of the seven movies directed by Josef Von Sternberg/starring Marlene Dietrich. Having watched and loved 5 of them, I was expecting a great movie...and it was.
You know what? Besides all the lighting marvels that Josef is known to do in his films with Miss Dietrich, I think that the interesting thing is that he always puts her in situations where she has the possibility to show diverse and right acting decisions. In this one, Marlene plays a poor street girl recruited by the government and transformed in X-27, a spy (cooler than Jennifer Garner in "Alias") working for Austria to unmask traitors and foreign menaces. Of course, she does a splendid job, in different scenarios and with different kind of men, always succeeding in attracting them and getting the right info. Things go swimmingly until a Russian officer becomes Marlene's new target...
Her fate is hinted from the text introduction of the movie (which I'm not gonna tell), but also in the way X-27 acts, like there's really no chance to have something better. "I've had an inglorious life. It may become my good fortune to have glorious death" she says to her superior at the beginning. And that detachment of life is what makes her such a great spy.
The movie moves fast because Josef doesn't waste time giving obvious explanations trough the dialog; sometimes he superimposes (is this word correctly used?) images to explain what is the character in question thinking. The attraction between the main characters is shown as something circumstantial and not converted in a dramatic center of the film, even when it finally is. This decision is correct, I think, because even when Victor McLaglen does a right job, his presence is not appealing like, let's say, Gary Cooper's. Marlene carries the movie very well, and you can see her in a costume party using a very weird but somehow cool black suit, holding her cat and taking it to her missions, playing the piano or as an energetic peasant girl without make up and with padding chased by a drunk man (lol).