The Devil is a Woman (1935)

“How can you lose what you never possessed?”

In The Devil is a Woman, passion and jealousy are set against the backdrop of carnival week in Seville. When the film begins, revolutionary Antonio Galvan (Cesar Romero) takes advantage of a carnival mask to sneak inside the city. There he catches a glimpse of the beautiful, sensual Concha Perez (Marlene Dietrich). Antonio meets old friend Don Pasqual (Lionel Atwill) who warns him to avoid Concha at all costs. Over drinks, Don Pasqual tells his story of exactly how he met Concha.

Approximately 2/3 of the film is devoted to Pasqual’s reminiscences of Concha. He tells how Concha cleverly fleeced him again and again. Pasqual gives large sums of money to Concha’s ‘mother’ for example, but once the cash is handed over, Concha plays fast and loose with Pasqual or ‘Pasqualito’ as she calls him, and disappears for months at a time. Pasqual never learns his lesson. Concha takes him for large sums repeatedly, and in one outrageous scene, she takes money from Pasqualito’s pocket only to hand it over to a matador lover standing a few feet away.

Marlene Dietrich fans should love this Josef Von Sternberg film. She wears the most outrageous costumes–including hats with a 3-foot wingspan. With her exaggerated eyebrows, and suggestive looks, the film plays her role to the hilt. She’s at once a victim, a vamp, and a heartless seductress who claims she loved Pasqualito “for a minute.” Pasqualito claims Concha has “ice where others have a heart.” But all of Concha’s outrageous behaviour serves only to make Pasqualito more obsessed and Antonio fascinated.

The Devil is a Woman is a light, playful film. Most of the Spanish officials appear as stock buffoon characters–unable to resist Concha’s wheedling and cajoling. There’s one scene, for example, when Concha enters a room full of officials as they huddle around a desk. Silence falls on the men as she enters the room, and then immediately the men start falling over her for attention. In another scene, Concha sings a suggestive song in an open-air cafe, and the subject of the song is the manner in which she juggles three lovers. This song is, of course, a reflection of Concha’s life. All the men in her life must possess her completely, but that’s like trying to hold smoke in your hands. Concha is ultimately her own woman–the love ’em and leave ’em type. Always light–never faithful and forever elusive.

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