Femmes fatales #3

Currently starring in two glorious re-releases on the big screen, “L’Atalante” and “La Grande Illusion”, Dita Parlo was an East German actress of the late 1920s and 30s.

She had an almost plain, doll-like face with a high forehead and the capacity to look really dour (see the opening sequence of “L’Atalante” for a truly miserable looking wedding procession) but with her big blue eyes and Dietrich-esque bone structure she could also be a beautiful siren, quietly winning Jean Gabin’s heart in “La Grande Illusion” and tenderly adored by her husband and several others in “L’Atalante”.

In an age of stylised, mannered film acting she had a particularly fluid physical presence and her sensuous quality in both films – especially the scene in “L’Atalante” where she lies awake in bed missing her husband – is unforgettable, that bedroom scene one of the most yearning and erotic passages in movie history – and very daring for its time.

As a result she had the (dubious) pleasure of being immortalised by Queen Madge Ciccone in her song “Erotica” and her book “Sex” was dedicated to Dita. The burlesque artiste Dita von Teese also took her name from the movie actress.

Unlike Dietrich, her particular quality did not adapt somehow to the American screen and she never made it in Hollywood despite interest from directors such as Orson Welles. She continued appearing in bit parts and made her last film in 1965 but her magical days were in the 1930s. Both “L’Atalante” and “La Grande Illusion” are extraordinary films anyway, especially the latter with its stellar cast, but when she is on the screen it’s hard to take your eyes off her.

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