Chosen by you (as they say in Asda), this is another film from the 1940s with striking performances from the leads. Golden Earings is categorised by Imdb as an adventure/romance but it is also a rye comedy of gender (as well perhaps era-specific racial) stereotypes – so be warned if you are one of those who cannot bear seeing history come alive (we don’t have to approve it to acknowledge it was there).
It is the eve of World War II and an English officer, Ralph Denistoun (Ray Milland), is in Nazi Germany on an espionage mission to recover a poison gas formula from Prof. Krosigk. Denistoun is helped out of a situation by Lydia (Marlene Dietrich) who pierces his ears and darkens his skin to disguise him as one of her band of gypsies. Inexplicably (or perhaps not!), a romance develops along the way.
Dietrich is not the worldly femme fatale we perhaps remember, but an earthy, engaging woman whose contrast with Milland’s stuffy rationalist is both funny and poignant. The story may be ludicrous, the stereotypes rampant and its single line of dialogue to address Nazi atrocities (against gypsies) may in retrospect be more than somewhat inadequate … but where else can you see Dietrich pluck a fish head from a boiling pot and down it in one gulp?
1. Directed by Mitchell Leisen with a screenplay by Frank Butler, Helen Deutsch and Abraham Polonsky, the film’s haunting song, “Golden Earrings” is sung in the movie by Murvyn Vye, but was a hit in 1947-48 for Peggy Lee, who co-wrote it.
2. In the scene with Lydia using a stew pot, dry ice was used to give the impression of vapors and heat. However, a small fire was lit under it, and between takes, Dietrich suffered third-degree burns to her hand. When filming resumed, being the trooper she was, she refused to hold up production and instead kept dipping her hand into a pot that had been refilled with ice water.
3. In one scene Dietrich plays the zither with surprising competence. This is because she had actually learned how to play, having plenty of time to learn since, due to a labour dispute, the principal actors had to “live” on the set for a few weeks to avoid crossing picket lines. If this is anathema to those on the left, at least we can rest assured that the strike-breakers suffered excruciatingly while Marlene repeatedly attempted to perfect her zither technique!