Review: Dietrich Rules in Cheesy 'Golden Earrings'

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday January 17, 2022

Review: Dietrich Rules in Cheesy 'Golden Earrings'

In her autobiography, the only mention Marlene Dietrich makes of the 1947 film "Golden Earrings" is to dismiss it as "bad." That's pretty harsh, but I can see how she may not have felt that portraying a Hollywood version of a lustful gypsy at the outset of WWII opposite an actor she didn't particularly like might have left a bad taste in her mouth.

Seventy-five years later, "Golden Earrings" proves a fascinating cinematic curio that is recommended for Dietrich's truly mesmerizing work, as well as closeted gay director Mitchell Leisen's hidden (and sometimes not-so-hidden) homotexual content. (And, yes, I mean homotextual).

The film opens in London in 1946 as Brit Brigadier General Ray Milland is being gossiped about because he may have pierced ears. Soon, he is aboard a plane telling the story about the "why." Flashback to right before the war, Milland and a young officer played by Bruce Lester — who appears to be crushing hard on Milland — are prisoners of war. They escape the Nazis and then split up. Milland comes upon Roma Dietrich proudly stirring her fish stew. (I couldn't make this shit up).

Milland must find a way to get past the Nazis to Lester's German friend so he can steal Hitler's poison gas formula. So, he allows Dietrich to turn him into a gypsy. That, of course, includes ear piercing and a total feminization. He basically becomes her bitch.

The great Marlene has a blast with the role, as if she's super aware she's miscast. The script is cheese, so she refuses to take it too seriously, camping it up at every turn and taking control of each situation. She not only steals every scene, but she also annihilates everyone else from the frame. Her Lydia may appear to be subservient to the Nazis, but she is a master manipulator who is no one's fool.

It's also a hoot watching her try and help Milland fight off another gypsy, Zoltan, played by Mervyn Vye. She's not the kind of woman who will just sit along the sidelines.

To argue that this movie is a culturally insensitive representation of the Roma people is an egregious understatement. They're portrayed as dark, dirty, and ridiculously superstitious. The actors are photographed with strange glowing eye whites, and all have heavy, dark makeup. Alas, we must contextualize and, even then, it's offensive.

In addition, the screenplay, by Frank Butler, Helen Deutsch and Abraham Polonsky, bounces between comedy, spy thriller, romance, suspense drama, and war film. So, it's best to follow Dietrich's kitschy lead and never take it seriously.

The film looks quite good on Blu-ray with only a few visible scratches. The soundtrack is fine.

The audio commentary by David Del Valle clearly appreciates Leisen, whom he calls an underrated genius. Del Valle also discusses Leisen's manner of slipping coded gay characters into his films, and how homophobia in Hollywood truly damaged the director. In addition, apparently Dietrich was not a fan of Milland, and enjoyed making fun of him. According to her daughter's bio, she was either sleeping with her leading men, or engaging in combat with them.

Despite negative reviews, "Golden Earrings" was a great box office success.

Blu-ray Extras Include:

  • New Audio Commentary by Film Historian David Del Valle

  • Theatrical Trailer

  • Optional English Subtitles

    "Golden Earrings" is currently available on Blu-ray.

    Frank J. Avella is a film journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep and a Member of the New York Film Critics Online. Frank is a recipient of the International Writers Residency in Assisi, Italy, a Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, and a NJ State Arts Council Fellowship. His short film, FIG JAM, has shown in Festivals worldwide (figjamfilm.com) and won awards. His screenplays (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW) have also won numerous awards in 16 countries. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. https://filmfreeway.com/FrankAvella https://muckrack.com/fjaklute