Freewheelin' Pilgrim

The Ramblings and Misadventures of a Wayward Gentleman

Dishonored (1931)

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The second film I watched on my blissful relaxation day was…


Dishonored 1931


Poster for 'The Informer'.








Dishonored tells the story of Austrian agent ‘X-27’ (how quaint) played by (guess who…) Marlene Dietrich during World War One. ‘X-27’ uses her looks to ‘get the goods’ on high ranking enemy officers, as well as traitors within her own army. But a narrow escape from a failed mission in capturing top Russian spy Colonel Kranau (played by Victor McLaglen), ‘X-27’ begins to question whether she can keep romance and spying separate…


This was the first (and so far only) Marlene Dietrich film I’ve seen, and I think it did well in capturing the essence of her ‘character’. She plays an exotic femme fatale, exuding European sex appeal. So I wasn’t really surprised in her characterisation of ‘X-27’. After watching The Informer I had expected great things from Victor McLaglen…

Sadly, I was disappointed. Dishonored is pretty much a carbon-copy of MGM’s Mata Hari which was released the same year. It’s pretty clear, having seen Mata Hari a few years back, that Dishonored was probably released to cash in on the former’s success at the box office. ‘X-27’ is pretty much Mata Hari by another name. The one difference being that Marlene Dietrich, in my opinion, is a much better actress than Greta Garbo (who starred in the titular role in Mata Hari). She slinks her way through the balls and boudoirs of enemy officers, seducing them and betraying them whilst remaining coldly indifferent to the men she condemns to death. Dietrich does well in the role, but it’s just a bad character. I think if Dietrich had played Mata Hari in a possible remake a few years later, she would have been much better, but her character is, as I mentioned, just a less-complex (and ultimately less satisfying) Mata Hari.

Victor McLaglen also does his best as Colonel Kranau, but he seems miscast. The character is a romantic ‘officer and gentleman’ type, much suited to the Gary Cooper or Douglas Fairbanks Jr. mold. McLaglen strikes me as being a rough ‘n’ ready type of actor, not one who’d waste time with romantic trifling as he does in this film. Tough, stoic men-at-arms like Sergeant Flagg in What Price Glory? or Sergeant MacChesney in Gunga Din are the only types of soldier McLaglen should have played, not officers mincing about as he does in this film. Don’t get me wrong, McLaglen is my favourite actor, and I think he’s fantastic. It’s just a case of poor casting on the studio’s part.

As mentioned, the story of Dishonored is essentially Mata Hari by another name. Female spy blah blah blah meets male spy blah blah blah falls in love blah blah blah close encounters blah blah blah will she let him escape or won’t she blah blah blah. I don’t mean to sound cynical or harsh, because I did enjoy this film. I just felt a bit, well, cheated. Josef von Sternberg (the director) and Dietrich had already made two classic movies by this time (Blue Angel and Morocco) and so I guess I expected so much better from this ‘dynamic duo’ than a rip-off of an earlier film. It just seems so…unconvincing. McLaglen and Dietrich had absolutely no chemistry and so their ‘forbidden love’ seems forced and false. Even what is supposed to be a stirring moment of pacifistic anti-war sentiment in the final scene, wherein a young lieutenant decides he’s had enough of killing and war seems tacked on to give the audience a ‘message’. It’s just not a convincing film, performance wise.

'X-27' (Marlene Dietrich) pulls a gun on Colonel Kranau (Victor McLaglen)

Dishonored is, though, a very stylish film. The locales are very well done, and the production values are really very good. There is an excellent scene which takes place at a sort of masked ball, complete with cascading rivers of champagne and a tonne of confetti (I would have thought that such a party in war-torn Europe would have been highly unlikely, but it’s Hollywood, not history) and it looks just fantastic. When one thinks of what was going on in Europe at the time, one almost gets the impression of a nihilistic society living by the old ‘is it not right to dance and sing/while the bells of death do ring?’ adage. It’s a very well-shot scene and has perhaps the only instance in cinema wherein flirting takes place over the blowing of party-whistles… The atmosphere is tense in one of the film’s suspense scenes, and there’s a lot of risque (for the time) humour about a hotel manager needing to continually employ new maids because “all the officers stay here…”. And the final scene is still shocking, even by today’s standards.

If Dishonored had been released a couple of years earlier or later than Mata Hari then it would’ve been a MUCH better film. I don’t know which studio copied which studio in this regard, but I’m sad to say that Mata Hari is the superior film, if only because of the strengths of it’s players. Dishonored doesn’t deliver in the character department and it is a crippling flaw. Other than that, Dishonored is well worth watching, just don’t let your expectations soar because of the von Sternberg/Dietrich partnership…




Written by Gypo Nolan

October 11, 2011 at 9:37 pm

Posted in Movies

2 Responses

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  1. EXCELLENT! Teach me how to write like you! Love you ❤

    Carole Irene

    October 13, 2011 at 1:54 am

  2. 😀 Oh Carole, you’re such a flatterer 🙂

    Gypo Nolan

    October 14, 2011 at 10:06 pm

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