Blonde Venus

Blonde Venus is a 1932 American pre-Code drama film starring Marlene Dietrich, Herbert Marshall, and Cary Grant. It was produced and directed by Josef von Sternberg from a screenplay by Jules Furthman, and S. K. Lauren adapted from a story by Furthman and von Sternberg. The original story "Mother Love" was written by Dietrich herself. The musical score was by W. Franke Harling, John Leipold, Paul Marquardt, and Oscar Potoker, with cinematography by Bert Glennon.

Blonde Venus
Blonde Venus (1932) poster.jpg
Original theatrical release poster
Directed byJosef von Sternberg
Produced byJosef von Sternberg
Written byJules Furthman
S. K. Lauren
Josef von Sternberg (uncredited)
StarringMarlene Dietrich
Herbert Marshall
Cary Grant
Dickie Moore
Music byW. Franke Harling
John Leipold
Paul Marquardt
Richard A. Whiting
Sam Coslow
Ralph Rainger
Leo Robin
Oscar Potoker
CinematographyBert Glennon
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • September 16, 1932 (1932-09-16) (US)
Running time
93 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguagesEnglish, German

Dietrich performs three musical numbers in the 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 the infamous "Hot Voodoo" (music by Ralph Rainger, lyrics by Sam Coslow), which is nearly 8 minutes in length and mostly instrumental, featuring jazz trumpet and drums. Dietrich sings the lyrics toward the end of the sequence, which takes place in a nightclub.


Ned Faraday, an American chemist, has been inadvertently poisoned with radium and expects to die within a year. Upon learning of Professor Holzapfel, a famous physician in Dresden who may be able to treat him, Ned decides to travel to Germany. That night, while putting his son Johnny to bed, Ned and his wife Helen recite the story of how they met. While traveling in Germany as a young man, Ned encountered Helen swimming in a pond with several other girls. She coyly told him she would grant him a wish if he left; Ned wished to see her again. Later that night, Ned encountered Helen performing onstage at a local theater.

After Johnny falls asleep, Ned discusses with Helen the possibility of traveling to Germany to meet Professor Holzapfel. In an effort to help pay for the trip, Helen covertly returns to stage work. She finds employment at a local nightclub, where she befriends a fellow cabaret girl, Taxi. While at the club, Taxi informs Helen of Nick Townsend, a wealthy politician and frequent patron who gave her expensive jewels for "favors." Helen attracts great attention in her first performance, "Hot VooDoo" (in which she dons an ape suit), and is noticed by Nick. Enamored of Helen, Nick approaches her after the show, and the two begin to talk. Upon learning of Ned's medical condition, Nick gifts her $300 as a downpayment for the trip.

Helen eventually accumulates enough money to pay for Ned's trip, and he travels to Germany. After Ned's departure, Nick offers to house Helen and Johnny in an apartment, sparing her from having to work. She and Nick develop a romance, but after learning of Ned's impending return to the United States, she tells him she must end the relationship. The two spend a two-week vacation together just prior to Ned's scheduled return date; however, Ned arrives ahead of schedule, and finds his home empty.

When Helen returns to the house after her vacation with Nick, she confesses to Ned that she has been unfaithful to him. Ned banishes her from the house, and threatens to sue her for custody of Johnny. Helen flees with Johnny, and the two live on the run, with Helen supporting them by performing in nightclubs. Ned reports Johnny as a missing person, and police begin to track Helen, who has rented a small apartment in New Orleans. There, she is eventually found by detectives, and voluntarily turns herself in.

Realizing her lifestyle is unstable for Johnny, Helen agrees to return Johnny to Ned. Following an emotional breakdown, Helen begins to work relentlessly, singing and performing in cabarets. Her work eventually leads her to Paris, where she reunites with Nick, who appears at one of her shows. Nick again professes his love for her, and proposes marriage. She accepts, and agrees to accompany him back to the United States.

Helen arranges a visit with Johnny, which is observed by Ned. Johnny requests that his mother again relay the story of how she met his father. Johnny begins to tell the story himself, encouraging Ned and Helen to join in the dialogue. This moves both Helen and Ned, who realize how their separation has affected Johnny. To calm Johnny, Helen begins singing a Heinrich Heine poem she used to sing to Johnny before bed each night.



Marlene Dietrich in the film trailer

The Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA), formed by the film industry in 1922, regulated the content of films by reviewing scripts using the 1930 Motion Picture Production Code MPC) which, while banning forced prostitution (i.e., white slavery), required the subject of a woman engaging in solicitation to be treated carefully. During negotiations between director Sternberg and the MPPDA regarding scenes where Helen is found by Detective Wilson in New Orleans, any direct solicitation was removed from the script such that, in the film, the interaction between Helen and the private detective becomes ambiguous.[1] Other aspects of the plot, such as adultery, remain inconsistent with the MPC, which was not strictly enforced until 1934.[2] This enforcement of the MPC prevented Paramount from reissuing Blonde Venus after 1934.[3]

To promote the film, the September 1932 film magazine Screenland published the story "The Blonde Venus" by Mortimer Franklin. This was based upon the second version of the script and not the final filmed version, perhaps as this version was more similar to the romances that appealed to the magazine's female readers.[4]


Blonde Venus received a mixed reception upon release. Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times called it "muddled, unimaginative and generally hapless piece of work, relieved somewhat by the talent and charm of the German actress [Dietrich] and Herbert Marshall's valiant work in a thankless role". Jose Rodriguez of Script remarked that the theme is as "old as life, and almost as interesting", praising the "force" and "instinctive cunning" of the director. Forsythe Hardy of Cinema Quarterly gave the film a gushing review, calling the picture "more brilliantly polished than any other America has sent us this year". He particularly praised the cinematography, writing: "For an hour the screen is filled with a succession of lovely images—finely assembled detail and imaginatively composed settings, photographed with a camera unusually sensitive".[5]

Blonde Venus is considered a cult film.[6]


  1. ^ Campbell, Russell (1997). "Prostitution and Film Censorship in the USA". Screening the Past (2): C/6. Retrieved July 5, 2020.
  2. ^ Sarasin, Rachel (2018). "The "Utterly Impossible" Story of Blonde Venus". Screen Culture Journal. Rochester Hills, Michigan: Oakland University (4). Retrieved August 22, 2020.
  3. ^ Jacobs 1997, p. 106.
  4. ^ Staiger 2000, p. 86.
  5. ^ Deschner 1973, pp. 42-44.
  6. ^ Jobling, Paul (March 13, 2014). "Advertising Menswear: Masculinity and Fashion in the British Media since 1945". A&C Black – via Google Books.


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