Marlene Dietrich is not known for her historical costume movies. The German actress is better known for the cabaret singing and dancing she often brought to her film roles, as well as for her personal glamor and androgynous image. However, in her long career (spanning the 1910s to the 1980s), Dietrich did take a few historical roles, even if the productions emphasized flash and fantasy more than historical accuracy. One of these films, Destry Rides Again (1939), is credited with reviving her career after a series of flops, and the Western became iconic, leading to similar parts and solidifying a certain trope of a Western saloon singer seen in movies and TV ever since. Marlene Dietrich’s style and personal life has become as influential as her movie roles. Her carefully curated fashion continues to be copied today, while her open marriage, affairs with many of her movies’ leading men, and her “sewing circle” of famous female lovers was a rational precedent for reevaluation of outdated norms. In addition to her unconventional life and her film work, she refused Nazi overtures to return to Germany, and instead, Dietrich worked for the United States war effort and became a U.S. citizen. She was awarded the United States Medal of Freedom in 1947. After her final film and suffering an injury, Marlene Dietrich retired to Paris, where she died in 1992.
Princess Sophia Frederica / Catherine II in The Scarlet Empress (1934)
Alexandra in Knight Without Armor (1937)
Frenchy in Destry Rides Again (1939)
Claire Ledeux in The Flame of New Orleans (1941)
Cherry Malotte in The Spoilers (1942)
Jamilla in Kismet (1944)
Altar Keane in Rancho Notorious (1952)
Barbary Coast Saloon Owner in Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
Baroness von Semering in Just a Gigolo (1978)
What’s your favorite Marlene Dietrich film, historical or otherwise?