The Devil is a Woman falls more towards the latter but not for lack of trying. Marlene Dietrich and Cesare Romero? This thing had more raw talent and showmanship than a year's worth of Hollywood disasters combined! You even forget for a while that for a film set in early 1900s Spain, Romero sticks out as the only genuine Spanish actor.
|Dietrich in contrast is a Viking.|
But, see, this was still Hollywood. Larval maybe but that drive for the simplistic and maudlin was still present in the Golden Age. And that holds it back from the misanthropic brilliance it was striving for.
Romero plays a young Republican - yes and I'm not explaining the context - on the run from the law for inciting revolution but stopping off for the local carnival where he spots Dietrich's character, a sultry gypsy type. He chases her through the streets in his Zorro mask, catching up just as she disappears into one of those monstrous European houses originally built for royalty. He thinks he's lost but while hiding from some of the comically put upon police - really, the civil servants in this steal the show with their pure slapstick - she slips him a letter asking to meet.
Romero, all excited, runs into his old friend Captain Totally-Not-Spanish-But-Just-Bear-With-Us to whom he brags about his impending hot date. But upon hearing the date's name is Concha - or "Pussy" if you're Honduran - the Captain goes all grave and warns Romero to run far far away from the blond gypsy.
Concha it turns out is a real griffter. She manipulated El Captain, squeezing him for money and gifts with the prospect of her love before running off with a matador. Captain Not-Spanish has his manly little heart broken by the conniving Concha and desperately wants to save Romero from making the same mistake.
Well Romero does. And the Captain shows up because he's still got the Concha-fever. It doesn't count as a spoiler if it was blatantly telegraphed by the plot (watch it and see for yourself).
So we have two old friends ready to kill each other - duel and everything! - over this one woman who never demonstrates concern for anyone but herself. What a heinous bitch, right? Well, see, the movie may think that's what is being said but Concha is all too honest with her shallowness from the start. If these silly bastards want to run themselves ragged to win her affection, why shouldn't she accept their gifts? And ask for more? Especially since she's a woman in 1900s Spain - she starts the film working in a cigarette factory and you can't really blame her for taking any opportunity to get out of that. There was some professor who talked way too long before the show about the role of women in 19th century fiction and femme fatales and blah blah blah - I could tell he was just ecstatic at having a captive audience for his pet theories which he clearly formed in the absence of any real women. And he called it a cruel film when it is anything but.
It wants to be a cruel film, that much is true. But Concha is just having fun and all the men are acting so stupidly serious about it. They're attracted to her overt sexuality but throw a fit when she shows off to any other guy. Yes, there's all sorts of layers of patriarchal propriety, gender liberation and other such guff we could get into - that the film would like us to get into - but any guy with sense learns early on to recognize Concha's behavior as indicating: "Hella issues and problems down the road, do not 'engage.'"
Of course there are plenty of guy's without sense and well, it may sound cruel - certainly by this film's fluffy standards - but those morons deserve what they get.