The Devil is a Woman
Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich went out with a bang in their final film together, The Devil Is a Woman, a surreal tale of erotic passion and danger set amid the tumult of carnival in turn-of-the-twentieth-century Spain. Through a series of flashbacks, Captain Costelar (Lionel Atwill) recounts to the young Antonio Galvan (Cesar Romero) the story of his harrowing affair with the notorious seductress Concha Perez (Dietrich), warning his listener to gird himself against her charms. Despite his counsel, Galvan falls under Concha’s spell, leading to a violent denouement. Ever the ornate visual stylist, von Sternberg evokes Spanish culture with a touch of the luridly fantastic, further elevated by Travis Banton’s opulent costume design and award-winning cinematography by von Sternberg himself.
The lone single-layer disc in the set, disc six from Criterion’s Dietrich and von Sternberg in Hollywood presents The Devil is a Woman, delivered in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The 1080p/24hz high-definition encode comes from a new 4K restoration, scanned from a 35mm safety duplicate negative.
This title ends up delivering the best-looking image in the set and it was a wonderful surprise. There are a handful of missing frames but outside of that nothing in the way of damage really stands out, the restoration job either being more thorough for this title, or the source materials were in far better shape than all of the previous films.
The other films in the set are very grainy but the grain here is finer, far more subtle, but it’s still rendered well, looking clean and natural. This also ends up being the sharpest looking picture in the set, the finer details from the settings and costumes (like the lace visible in some Dietrich’s costumes, like the mask early on) being a real stand out. Contrast and gray levels are also spot on.
Every title in this set looks good, and has obviously gone through a lot of work, but I ended up being most impressed with how this one turned out.
Like the other films the soundtrack is limited more by its age, as it is weak in relation to range and fidelity. But other than some audible background noise (which is expected) there are no pops, cracks, or drops, and dialogue is still clear. Music also manages to sound pretty good without coming off harsh.
Criterion’s six-disc set presents several supplements spread across each film, some specific to the disc’s respective film and others working as overviews of their work. This review will focus specifically on the supplements available on The Devil is a Woman’s disc.
Sadly, there isn’t much here, only a 2-minute presentation of a song removed from the film, ”If It Isn’t Pain,” which was excised thanks to the production code. Only the audio survives (a metal disc for a record was created and that is where this comes from). The innuendo in the song is not subtle so it’s not hard to see why it was cut.
It’s certainly a great inclusion but I’m surprised by the lack of much else.
Disappointing only one 2-minute feature is included but this title offers the best video presentation in the set.