This is a Paramount film, credited with a release date of 1937, not 1934 as is given here at Amazon.com, Dietrich's daughter's biography of her shows a few pictures from the set, all dated 1937. That was she year she was called Boxoffice Poison, along with Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Greta Garbo and Katherine Hepburn. It was all nonsense; a pretense like the one used when Metro wanted to replace Lilian Gish with Greta Garbo. It only meant the studios wanted to get rid of their established and highly paid stars, and hire some new ones at cheper salaries. They pretended their films weren't doing well at the box office when in fact they'd amassed huge numbers of faithful fans.
Angel's costumes are by Travis Banton. It was to be their final collaboration, and he did very well indeed by Dietrich, adapting the latest Paisian looks -- Chanel, Sciaparelli, and others -- to the newer, sleeker and almost military Wallis Simpson look that swept the world after the American advenuress married the King of England. The Herbert Marshall, Marlene Dietrich, Melvin Douglas fictional menage a trois captured the essence of the international situation at that time as England and the United States confronted the collapse of the European economy that happened largely because of the American financial diaster of 1929. The Depression hit bottom in 1933, so this escapist-romance movie took place only four years later, when things weren't really much better. The German hegemony wass going straight to hell.
Simple story: An expatriate Austrian woman is married to a noble British diplomat who frequently shuttles back and forth bettween London and the other European capitals. Though she lives in the lap of luxury, surrounded with every conceivable convenience, his loving wife becomes discontent. Her husband regularly neglects her, and although she cannot but appreciate her husband's work, she resents the time away from her it calls for. One day, in a fit of ennui, she decides to take the plane her husband often uses, to fly the channel and week-end in Paris. There, she visits one of her friends from her unmarried days in Vienna, a Russian noblewoman and expatriate who fled her country after the Revolution and now lives in Paris. This older, well-fed and extremely elegant woman has set up a kind of Salon for herself where for cash the tout Paris as well as visiting foreigners with lots of money, can recreate themselves in privacy, with people of their own class. They can drink, gamble, and form alliances with members of both sexes. It is only reasonable that the diplomat's wife should meet the beautifully dressed and charming Douglas there. And, mutually attracted, they establish a kind of emotional rappoort. This intimacy is characterized by a scene of the two of them sitting on a bench in wht looks like a garden or park, having a chat. I's late, and they are both formally dressed; he in a Tux, and she in an elaborate, gauzzy gown. Obviously they've just come from an evening of dancing at some ultra-posh nightclub or hotel ballroom. He wants her. She's interested in him, but she' a married woman and she leaves Paris immediately, without identifying herself. She's known to this circle only as Angel.
She returns home to her husband, and reumes her beautiful life. Then, abruptly, her American suitor arrives to visit one of his old friends, her husband, played by Herbert Marshall. They do not reveal their secret, but the suspense of the comedy is heightene by it. Eventually, the story comes out. The husband feels betrayed by both of them, and his wife, Dietrich, must make a choice between her husband and her lover. Finally, she does, and the movie ends with Angel's wings only slightly singed by the fires of illegitimate desire.
Its all typical Lubitch, and we've seen in since he began in Silents with -- what else? -- comedies of manners and morals. And, as his reputation grew, Lubitch the European, went on to direct a number of successful b/w musicals in the United States, some of which starred Maurice Chevalier. Almost all of them had what was called "The Lubitch Touch," which meant an amusing way of teasing the audience with contretemps between his -- usually bourgeois characters -- as they negotiated the complexities of adulterous or at least potentially adulterous romance. In many ways these comedies of Lubitch's remind one of the novels of Collette, as the musical film based on one of her novels GIGL does, featuring as it does, an older but still debonnaire boulevardier, Maurice Chevalier.
And so, although probably nobody in living memory has read or seen Melchior Lengel's play upon which this movie is based, we recognize that it so eminently recommends itself ot the musical stage, it seems remarkable that the material hasn't already been so transformed. But, its delicious as it is. Very handsomely mounted. Stylish. And funny in lots of charming ways.