GOLDEN EARRINGS was a solid gold hit back in 1947, its $1,000,000 production cost place-kicked by $8,100,000 from fans, whose patronage put it in spot #27 for the year. Reviewers were less kind, with justification, as apart from one sparkling element, it’s a complete absurdity, a romantic spy saga that has a credibility factor in single digits, gobbling stereotypes like rice in Asia. The saving grace that makes for an amusing cheese-out is the delightful scenery-chomping from Marlene Dietrich.
Germany, 1939. A British agent (Ray Milland, yawn) seeking some big secret from the Nazis, escapes captivity. Fleeing through the forest he runs across a lone Gypsy woman, crooning some lament over a campfire—hey, it’s Marlene Dietrich! , in dark makeup and ‘authentic’ costume—and within a minute she’s madly in love with him. She disguises him as a fellow Gypsy (skin dye from some potion, handy golden earrings, ragged clothes) and—big surprise— over the course of 95 minutes, after much comic sparring, with her nearly always coming out on top, a deep relationship develops. He becomes blood brother to clan leader ‘Zoltan’ (Murvyn Vye in his film debut), after a knockdown, roll-in-campfire fight and a sudden explosion of wild dancing and general lusty ethnic behavior from the whole group. Those sensitive to p.c. alerts will crank an air-raid siren on this one. We suggest those so easily offended by ancient cinematic trivia can just lighten the hell up. Oh, yes, meanwhile, the Nazis… *
Lazy direction is from Mitchell Leisen, who later in his memoirs dished some dirt on the quarreling of his two stars. His anecdotes, repeated verbatim in most reviews of this project, are colorful but also sniff iffy; what was clear was they didn’t care for each other, with an uptight Milland worried his colorful (here, literally) co-star would steal the film, a case of justifiable actorcide. He’s okay (his character is mostly a dip); but Marlene plays for all it’s worth, her full-blooded turn as ‘Lydia’—ferociously earthy, often tickle funny and occasionally endearing—makes the script’s blithe hogwash entertaining. **
Their antics are mostly set-bound; it really would have benefited from color, which could have added some extra gaudy fun to the daft proceedings. Victor Young’s score included the song “Golden Earrings” (growled by Vye), which became a big hit for Peggy Lee, charting at #2, and over decades was covered by dozens of singers.
With Bruce Lester (as Brit twit with the are-you-kidding? name ‘Dickie Byrd’), Ivan Triesault (suave-vile head Nazi), Dennis Hoey (dumb Nazi with scar) and John Dehner (Nazi SS man with a Schmeisser MP40). Renowned war correspondent Quentin Reynolds has a small role, playing himself, perhaps a lame try at fooling audiences that this has some basis in fact. Why not, in a script that has a “secret formula for poison gas” written on a 5-mark note?
* Abraham Polonsky wrote the original script, his first, (off a novel by Hungarian author Jolán Földes), hoping to get in some serious material about the persecution of the Roma people by the Reich. But the screenplay was then given over to Frank Butler and Helen Deutsch, who concentrated on playing up ‘types’ (p.c. alert) and softened Polonsky’s treatment to hints. A neglected side to The Holocaust is that Hitler’s minions viciously decimated the Romani to such an extent that the tally of victims ranges from 220,000 to 1,500,000. At least Vye is allowed to say “one day in this accursed land they will kill all of us“.
** After winning an Oscar for 1945s The Lost Weekend and having a solid boxoffice success with California (a dull western), the hard-working Milland was nervous the return of Dietrich—gone from three years entertaining the troops—might shadow him, and he was also apparently miffed that at 45 she was five years older than he. He was certainly excellent in The Lost Weekend, but too often was rather a stuffed stiffo. The adventurous leading lady meanwhile had reportedly done some ground-level research of Romani life in Europe before returning to Hollywood for the flick. Undercover or under-makeup, she gave this comeback some vital pizzazz.