On the streets of Vienna during World War I, a prostitute wanders the streets looking for her next client. She is approached by a man, who offers her a job she was never expecting. The man turns out to be a high ranking officer in the intelligence agency who offers her a job as a spy. Given the codename "Agent X-27" our heroine proves to be invaluable because of her femininity. As her superior puts it, "A man's brain cannot accomplish nearly as much as a woman's charm", leading Agent X-27 to seduce and ultimately betray enemy officers for the sake of her country. Things get far more complicated though when she falls in love with one of her targets, a Russian spy. Josef Von Sternberg's Dishonored may sound like a dated melodrama by its plot description but in fact the film is emotionally subtle and not soapy at all. Sternberg's decision to not let this film soak in melodrama is a testament to the respect he has in the stakes which exist in the espionage world. Dishonored is not nearly as accomplished or interesting from a visual standpoint as some of Sternberg's best work but the film still is well composed. There are some very well choreographed tracking shots and some pretty impressively edited transitions, especially for the time. Sternberg really had a great eye for compositions, knowing when is right to punch in on certain elements, as well as when to let the frame breath. Dishonored is a cold and subdued film, especially given the narrative, but it captures the ultimate act of love (sacrifice) in a way that seems odd but is still quite emotionally resonant. The film could have done a little more to express why Agent X-27 is comfortable in her own death, but for the savvy viewer it won't be that hard to comprehend. Sternberg's Dishonored certainly touches on the uncivil nature of the espionage world but the strength of the film lies in this unique and fascinating lead performance by Marlene Dietrich.
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