So How Do You Follow The Blue Angel?

The other day, my Netflix account provided me with a strange couple of recommendations based on something I had recently watched.  This is something to which every user of Netflix has grown accustomed, that is, not only getting the recommendations but sometimes getting strange ones.  The algorithm is usually fairly sound. If, for instance, I watch The Sound of Music, it might recommend Mary Poppins, My Fair Lady, Oklahoma, and West Side Story.  All perfectly reasonable.  West Side Story may not be much like The Sound of Music, but it’s a big musical based on a stage play and it won Best Picture so the recommendation isn’t outlandish.  It might even throw in non-musicals like Torn Curtain or The Americanization of Emily because those also starred Julie Andrews and maybe it thinks I might want to see more of her work.  The other night, however, Netflix informed me that “based on [my] interest in The Blue Angel…” I might also be interested in Cool Hand Luke and 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Um, okay.  So, it’s not always perfect.  But what I started thinking was, “What would I recommend to someone just venturing into the world of film fandom after they watch a director’s biggest movie?”  Once you see Citizen Kane, The Maltese Falcon, 8 1/2, The Seven Samurai, Vertigo, The Rules of the Game, etc, what do you watch next?  Put more simply, how do you follow The Blue Angel?

Blue Angel 01

If someone took in The Blue Angel as their first film encounter with the famous collaborative team of actress Marlene Dietrich and director Josef von Sternberg, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.  Way back when, in the dark ages before even VHS was readily available, it was the first Dietrich/Sternberg I saw, courtesy of my local PBS station.  But once they’ve seen that, which Dietrich/Sternberg should they see next?  (and for the sake of this post, I’m going for works by the same person or persons, not simply good matches, otherwise I’d go with the obvious: Cool Hand Luke and 2001: A Space Odyssey)  If I were tasked with guiding them along, it would be a difficult choice but I know which Dietrich/Sternberg film I’d choose for their next encounter:  Blonde Venus.  Why?  Well, despite the fact that I don’t think it’s the best work of Dietrich/Sternberg (that would be The Scarlet Empress), I do think it’s the perfect follow-up because it presents a gentle transition from one film to the other by presenting Dietrich in the same type of role, as a stage entertainer, but in a far more sympathetic light.  While in The Blue Angel her character could be see as more self-absorbed and eager to use the professor to her own ends, her nightclub entertainer in Blonde Venus has to fight and sacrifice for her child, her life, her marriage and her happiness.  She’s not only a deeper, richer character than the entertainer in The Blue Angel, she’s more recognizable in human terms to most people seeing it.  Her character in The Blue Angel might be just as sympathetic but that movie doesn’t let us peek into her psyche as nakedly as Blonde Venus.  Before plunging headlong into the delirious genius of The Scarlet Empress, I’d recommend a little prep work with Blonde Venus first.

Okay, but what about other great works by famous directors or stars or teams?  How do you follow up Citizen Kane, for instance?  It was the first Orson Welles movie I ever saw because… do I even need to finish that sentence?  But what’s next?  The Magnificent Ambersons?  Maybe.  I do, after all, like it better than Citizen Kane, mainly I think because of Agnes Moorehead’s unbelievably powerful performance.  But visually, it feels too close to Citizen Kane to offer the viewer something different.  Touch of Evil, on the other hand, offers the viewer a very different look and design while maintaining some not so obvious similarities.  Unlike Citizen Kane, it’s seedy, not regal.  It has a small film feel to it, not an epic one.  But Welles’ Hank Quinlan is controlling and manipulative, just like Kane.  And he has his own empire, it’s just not in newspaper form.  It’s more of a turf, a territory just over the Mexican/American border where Quinlan is the ruling warlord.  And like Kane, he meets his end unfulfilled, never quite getting what he wants.

Now the budding film fan you’re mentoring decides to go for more “Greatest of All Time” movies they’ve heard so much about.  Like most younger film fans, they turn to Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai because… I keep starting sentences I don’t need to finish.  But after that?  Ikiru?  Rashomon? Ran? Throne of Blood? So many choices and all good but what about High and Low?  First of all, like the Dietrich/Sternberg pairing, it shows a great film team in action, in this case Toshiro Mifune and Kurosawa.  And it provides the same team from The Seven Samurai doing something completely different but still showing similarities.  The first film is a deep period piece, the second a modern day thriller.  The first deals with a group of men as the leads, the second with a single lead in Mifune.  But both deal with making moral choices to protect the innocent.  In The Seven Samurai, it’s on the scale of a village, in High and Low, it’s on the scale of a single boy’s life but one that Mifune must choose to save or not by losing everything he has.  It’s a great movie and would show our young film fan that Kurosawa isn’t always about feudal Japan, despite the prevalent misconception.

Seven Samurai

And there are so many more!

The answer to what comes next, of course, relies on what comes first.  If someone makes Vertigo their first Hitchcock (mistake in my book), I’d send them to The 39 Steps or Foreign Correspondent to show them Hitchcock before technicolor and in the midst of his great espionage period.   But if they listened to me, they’d start with Strangers on a Train.  Why?  Because it still has the earlier, black and white Hitchcock feel, the mistaken identity/wrong man motif (the mistaken identity/wrong man would be Farley Granger being suspected as the killer), the thrilling set-piece ending, murder, suspense, and a witty conclusion.  It doesn’t have the blond lead actress but that’s something you could lead your protegee towards with later efforts.

And others?

Stanley Kubrick: I’d start them with Dr. Strangelove, then lead them into Barry Lyndon.  The first is the quintessential Kubrick movie.  The second, on the other hand, is the quintessential Kubrick movie.   That makes sense, right?

Federico Fellini: Nights of Cabiria to start, then La Dolce Vita.  After that, they’re on their own to explore.

Ingmar Bergman: They’ll probably start with The Seventh Seal, like so many.  I’d start them with Wild Strawberries.  From there, Scenes from a Marriage.

Howard Hawks: Only Angels Have Wings, then His Girl Friday.

Frank Capra: It’s a Wonderful Life, then It’s a Wonderful Life.  If there’s time for a third, It’s a Wonderful Life.

Frank Capra: It Happened One Night, then It Happened One Night.  If there’s time for a third, It Happened One Night.

[interpret the two Capra entries as you will]

John Huston: The Maltese Falcon, then Fat City.

Jean Renoir:  Rules of the Game is where they’re going to start no matter what you do.  After that, send them to The River.  That’ll give them an about face.

Michael Powell/Emeric Pressberger:  I’d go against the usual starter of The Red Shoes and start them with I Know Where I’m Going, if only so you could then show them Life and Death of Colonel Blimp to further illustrate how magnificent an actor was Roger Livesy.

Fritz Lang: Start with M then move to Fury.  Mob justice, two different sides.  They’ll find Metropolis on their own, they all do.

William Wyler: The Letter.  Always start Wyler with The Letter.  Then Dodsworth.  Or maybe the other way around.  Or maybe with Wyler, start anywhere and end anywhere.

I’m going to stop there to leave plenty of room for adding more in the comments.  Please no “I can’t believe you left off [insert director name here].”  I left off hundreds!  I could have included so many but I can’t be held morally responsible for inflicting a 150,000 word post on innocent readers.  And yes, I know, I left off everyone who debuted after the fifties but, hey, this is TCM and again, how long can I make this?   Besides, some of these guys, like Ford, Wilder, Lean, Lubitsch, Chaplin, Griffith, Keaton, Cocteau, Bunuel, De Mille,  Curtiz, Minnelli, Donen, Mann… [takes long breath, leaves out dozens more]… I haven’t decided yet.  I mean, I stopped working on the John Ford intro and follow-up.  I changed my mind so many times I gave up and decided to let the comments take care of it.   Same for several dozen more.  So let’s get to work on these.  Those budding film fans are waiting for our recommendations.   Let’s not let them down.

22 Responses So How Do You Follow The Blue Angel?
Posted By Ghijath Naddaf : June 25, 2014 1:39 pm

As for Huston, one should watch all the three great ones.
Maltese Falcon, Sierra Madre and The Asphalt Jungle.
Also i love late Hawkes even more than early Hawkes.
So i absolutly would include Rio Bravo,El Dorado and Hatari.

Posted By LD : June 25, 2014 1:45 pm

Eli Wallach: I would start with his role as Tuco in THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, although some would prefer Calvera in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. Another outlaw role was Gant in HOW THE WEST WAS WON so to prove his range my next pick would be Vacarro in BABY DOLL, his debut in films. Last, would be Guido in THE MISFITS. Thank you Mr. Wallach. RIP.

Posted By Ghijath Naddaf : June 25, 2014 2:15 pm

HAWKS !!!!!! Sorry.

Posted By LD : June 25, 2014 2:19 pm

Guess I will correct my error. It’s R.I.P.. Also sorry.

Posted By Ghijath Naddaf : June 25, 2014 2:25 pm

@ LD

Oh my God, Tuco is dead !!! Mr.Wallach was one of my favorite

Posted By LD : June 25, 2014 2:28 pm

Ghijath, mine too.

Posted By Patricia Nolan-Hall (@CaftanWoman) : June 25, 2014 4:23 pm

Wyler: started my daughter with “Dead End” then “These Three” then “The Best Years of Our Lives”. When I wanted to show her “Dodsworth” and “The Big Country” and “Carrie” I just had to mention his name.

Posted By gregferrara : June 25, 2014 4:34 pm

Now that I’ve thought about it more, I think (for now at least, I’ve changed my mind a few times), I’d start John Ford with The Searchers so the person could see what everyone was talking about and then take them to How Green Was My Valley for a completely different side of Ford. From there, they could feel free to discover all his other westerns and dramas from five decades.

Posted By Neil : June 25, 2014 6:23 pm

West Side Story may not be much like The Sound of Music, but it’s a big musical based on a stage play and it won Best Picture so the recommendation isn’t outlandish.”

Early ’60s musical directed by Robert Wise sounds like enough to make a less than confusing recommendation. Of course, early ’80s John Huston movie starring Albert Finney will make for a really odd-seeming recommendation, despite that sounding pretty sensible on the face of it.

I’m looking at your Huston recommendation and having trouble faulting it, but I want to. Every other combination I come up with accomplishes essentially the same thing. Damn, I love that guy!

Posted By Neil : June 25, 2014 6:27 pm

I agree with The Searchers to How Green Was My Valley. I want to include The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but I can’t come up with a better way to contrast from there. That’s essentially the same issue I had following up from or to Treasure of the Sierra Madre, my favorite Huston movie. Nothing with either balances as well as your choices.

For Peckinpah, I’ll expect you’ll start with The Wild Bunch which I’d try to guide you to Junior Bonner from. However starting from scratch, I might try to lead from Ride the High Country to Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.

This is interesting.

Posted By Doug : June 25, 2014 9:30 pm

Cheating a little, the idea of performers working together, what would we recommend as a follow-up to film neophytes?
“Stage Door” is well known, has plenty of star power-aside from Kate Hepburn,
we find:
Ginger Rogers, Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, Jack Carson.
A good follow-up would be “Having Wonderful Time” with:
Ginger Rogers, Lucille Ball, Eve Arden and Jack Carson.
Speaking of Eve Arden, when I saw her in Crawford’s “Dancing Lady” she was unbelievably young-I wasn’t sure it was her until she spoke.
As for Eli Wallach, a while ago I discovered a little film called “A Taste Of Jupiter”-Mr Wallach was perfect in his role in an admittedly imperfect movie. Teri Garr also shows up for an extended cameo. Those two made the movie worth watching.

Posted By AL : June 25, 2014 9:43 pm

” I can’t believe you left off…” Your choices are so “provocateurish” that they seem calculated and smack of smart-ass adolescent perversity. CITIZEN KANE? THE RED SHOES? VERTIGO? 2001? Surely you’re not relegating these films to secondary status simply because they’re generally/usually accepted as belonging in a #1 position…

Posted By AL : June 25, 2014 9:47 pm

…on the other hand, perhaps I missed the point of your premise…

Posted By gregferrara : June 26, 2014 7:07 pm

AL, I’m not sure what you mean so forgive me if I’m misunderstanding this but what I was going for there was simply that if someone chooses to watch CITIZEN KANE first when seeing movies directed by Orson Welles, what would be the best Welles movie to follow it that would show them a range and give them enough of a change with what came first to want to watch more.

For instance, with John Ford, I thought, originally, maybe STAGECOACH first and then THE SEARCHERS but then I thought that either one of those would work as an introduction but the second Ford should be one of the many non-westerns he made.

I don’t know, maybe I’m misreading your comment. I certainly wasn’t trying to be calculated or provocateurish. I simply liked thinking about how I would introduce works by revered directors to a novice.

Posted By gregferrara : June 26, 2014 7:09 pm

Neil, Sam Peckinpah is another tough one. A part of me feels like either THE WILD BUNCH or STRAW DOGS should be the first but then I can’t figure on what would come second. Probably BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA but I don’t really know.

Posted By gregferrara : June 26, 2014 7:10 pm

Doug, this definitely lends itself to actors as well and I was thinking of doing a Part II posts for actors next week.

Posted By george : June 26, 2014 8:13 pm

Hopefully, watching THE BLUE ANGEL would lead people to other movies from Weimar Germany (PANDORA’S BOX would be a good place to start; so would M), and then to movies about that era (with CABARET being an obvious starting point).

Posted By george : June 26, 2014 8:19 pm

Re Peckinpah: RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY would be a good choice. Ditto for PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID (although then you’d have to decide which version of PAT GARRETT to include).

Posted By swac44 : June 26, 2014 8:49 pm

I’d follow The Letter with the original version starring Jeanne Eagels, just to see how two very different actresses tackle a demanding role. Eagels performance in what I believe to be her only surviving talkie is pretty remarkable for its time.

I worked my way up to The Searchers, my first Ford film was The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, followed by Stagecoach, which I think was the better way to go rather than jumping in at the deep end, as it were. I feel the same way about Vertigo, it’s probably good to have a few other Hitchcocks under your belt before tackling that one (maybe Psycho and one of the British films, The Lady Vanishes or The 39 Steps.

Posted By swac44 : June 26, 2014 8:51 pm

For me a good second Peckinpah would be The Getaway, taut crime drama with great Steve McQueen performance, good contrast with The Wild Bunch. But it’s hard to argue with Ride the High Country as well.

Posted By Jlewis : June 28, 2014 4:07 pm

Going a bit in a different direction here. (Forgive me, folks.) For those who need a cross selection of Best Picture Winners, it might be best to choose one for each decade that was… set in that decade and represents the over-all “feel” of those times.

BROADWAY MELODY doesn’t do the roaring twenties much justice, but at least everybody is putting on a show in a very showbiz era. Better for the ’30s, IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT is the quintessential Depression Era “feel good flick”. You get a nice cross selection of “typical Americans” going about their business on limited means. Then you continue with the forties with THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES for what-happens-after-the-war.

The best ’50s film about the ’50s was 1960′s winner THE APARTMENT with all of the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses and maintaining a squeaky clean “wholesome” image despite folks hardly behaving “wholesome”.

MIDNIGHT COWBOY expands upon what THE APARTMENT starts to unravel. Only now we see nothing is “wholesome”, yet people are still lying on telephones and sneaking around for their “forbidden” pleasures. We even have some religious talk here too for contrast. On a different level, it also showcases late sixties America in the midst of a revolution and decay… and nobody knowing how to handle it. They just show up at a groovy Andy Warhol “happening” with no clue as to why they are there.

ANNIE HALL was made in the enlightened “ME” Decade when you pretty much got to do what you wanted. Now Woody Allen has to over-analyze it all. Everybody was on the couch that decade.

Hardly a great film by any means, RAIN MAN still presents us the ’80s obsession with greed and yuppy affluence in Tom Cruise’s character… until he is forced to become “human” with his new brotherly relationship… and this leads us into a “like” film a decade later, the too-often-hated-by-film-buffs (but still relevant of its times) AMERICAN BEAUTY. Then THE HURT LOCKER brings us to the post-9/11 phobia when soldiers were even scared something could be lurking in the local grocery store.

With only three-four years into this decade, we may have to wait a bit to find this decade’s Academy “of its period” movie.

Posted By The Roundup: July 16, 2014 | The Frame : July 17, 2014 5:27 am

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