American chemist Ned Faraday marries a German entertainer and starts a family. However, he becomes poisoned with Radium and needs an expensive treatment in Germany. Wife Helen returns to night club work to attempt to raise the money and becomes popular as the Blonde Venus.
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Little Dickie Moore is essentially a MacGuffin to motivate the plot’s toing and froing, as featherweight a device as Marshall’s non-fatal fatal illness. The film succeeds as Sternberg intended it to, as a record of the mediated play of light on various textures including a certain woman’s face moving in rhythm with an atmospheric soundtrack.
In the Blonde Venus, not only does Helen end up making the choice to give up her son to ensure his happiness, she raises herself from pathetic drunk to headlining act in Paris. Even at her lowest moment — throwing away money and slurring her way through a cheap woman’s club — she retains the threads of humanity which help her rise again. In Sternberg’s world, nobody can even fall so low than someone who had so much to lose in the first place.