Herbert Marshall's Forehead
- You're strong, he's weak", says Marlene Dietrich to Cary Grant in
Josef Von Sternberg's "Blonde Venus" (1932), the 'weak' implied being
Herbert Marshall. Pairing Marshall and Grant (sparse as the latter's
presence is in here) was a brilliant piece of casting, bringing
together two most sexy male voices in all cinema (had Sternbeg had
Roger Livesey and Orson Welles on the set, Marlene could do without
It's hard to think of two more different characters than cuckold
husband in "Blonde Venus" and suave thief `Gaston Monescu' that
Marshall plays in Lubitsch masterpiece, "Trouble in Paradise" (1932).
Both movies were released the same year and both brilliantly make us
believe opposing things (Marshall's `weakness' mentioned by Dietrich
in "Venus", and his obvious sexual power as Manescu in "Trouble"). Why
is, then, that Marshall's appeal in both movies seems so much alike...?
He was a great frowner and a great brow-raiser, for one thing. I
counted: there are at least four long horizontal lines crossing his
forehead boldly and coming wonderfully alive each time Marshall's
character is becoming agitated, or moved, or concerned. The inward
tips of his eyebrows point upwards, which stands in striking contrast
to Dietrich "V" brows (complete with daring mascara) in "Venus".
Come to think of it, Marshall's forehead and his voice are the only
things really alive about him, and that I believe is the key to his
enormous (also sexual) appeal: even when devastated, he seems
composed. What's more: he's composed even while devastating others, a
characteristic that comes to the surface only once in "Venus"
("Johnny, do you want to say good-bye to your mother...?" forever!),
but is fundamental in Manescu's getting in and out of complicated
I think Sternberg realized what dynamo Marshall's forehead was (only
Walter Matthau's seems to match it in later cinema) and that's
probably why the in most difficult scene between him and Dietrich he
has a hat covering his head and shadowing his eyes. The contrast of
his composure and hidden passion burning on a low boil somewhere deep
in his body (when Grant confronts him, he breaths in an out with such
effort that his chest moving seems almost an artifact, but the rage is
so real) that's what makes him fascinating to me.
- Michal, your recent spurt of list activity reminded me that I had this post
lodged in the recesses of AOL's evil new inbox program. An eccentric,
beautifully written post, that is. I'm particularly in love with this comment on BLONDE
<<Pairing Marshall and Grant (sparse as the latter's presence is in here) was
a brilliant piece of casting, bringing together two most sexy male voices in
all cinema (had Sternbeg had Roger Livesey and Orson Welles on the set,
Marlene could do without singing).>>
You deserve an evening of ravishment with Gaston Monescu for that!
Have you seen my beloved ANGEL FACE? There, Preminger plays the weak and
powerful Herbert Marshalls off one another, capable of charming money out of his
Mrs., all the while being mainpulated by his freeze-dried daughter Jean
See what's new at
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I don't know a man or a women who would deny themselves an evening (or
night) with Monescu -- and weren't willing to get rid of all their
jewelry in the process.
No, I haven't seen ANGEL FACE, but your post made me buy it at Amazon
a minute ago -- I'll let you know how I liked Marshall in it.
Greetings from Pennsylvania!