There are various accounts of why Marlene Dietrich was cast as Lola Lola, but the one given by director Josef von Sternberg in his autobiography is that Dietrich came to test for the film with a bored, world-weary attitude because she was convinced she wasn't going to get the role and was merely going through the motions - and Sternberg hired her because that world-weary attitude was precisely what he wanted for the character.
Josef von Sternberg's and Marlene Dietrich's love affair, which began during production of this film, caused quite a tabloid scandal and ultimately led to the dissolution of von Sternberg's marriage. On March 31, 1930, the night of the film's triumphant premiere in Berlin, the couple absconded to New York in order to begin a film career together in the United States. Von Sternberg's wife, Riza Royce, discovered the plans and arrived in the United States before her husband and Dietrich. She and her lawyer met the couple at the dock as they disembarked from their cruise liner. Royce served Dietrich with papers notifying her that she was being sued for libel and alienation of affection, and she filed for divorce from von Sternberg one month later.
Marlene Dietrich's screen test for this film survives. In it, she pretends to upbraid her pianist, played by Friedrich Hollaender, the film's composer. She then sings the chorus of "You're the Cream In My Coffee" a number of times, in English, after which she climbs on the piano, hitches up her skirt (to show her legs) and sings, in German, a torch song called "Why Cry" by Peter Kreuder, a well-known song-writer who supervised the film's orchestral arrangements. As the test ends, Dietrich breaks character and apologizes to Hollaender.
Marlene Dietrich had a somewhat restricted vocal range, which forced composer Friedrich Hollaender to tailor the music specifically to accommodate Dietrich's voice. Dietrich's unique singing talent, however, led to a lengthy second career as a concert singer after her film career waned.
Emil Jannings' first film back in his native country after an abortive trip to Hollywood. Hoping to become a star of American films, Jannings was soundly rebuffed because no one could understand his accent.
During auditions for the role of Lola Lola, director Josef von Sternberg instructed each aspiring actress to bring a "naughty song" with them and prepare to sing it during their audition. Marlene Dietrich ignored the instruction and showed up to her audition without a song and unprepared to sing.
Erich Pommer paid Heinrich Mann $8000 for the screen rights to his novel "Professor Unrat." The screenplay was then written by Robert Liebmann with Carl Zuckmayer contributing ideas, including the name Lola Lola and the Blue Angel Cafe. Josef von Sternberg insisted on the entire writing credit, claiming he had found the Mann novel on a dusty shelf and had directed the film from his own sketchy notes including the rooster-crowing sequence, and that he improvised much of the material during shooting.
This English-language version was considered a lost film for many years, until a print was discovered in a German film archive. This version has been restored and shown as part of the Berlin and Beyond film festival at the Castro Theater in San Francisco on 19 January 2009.
According to producer Erich Pommer, Josef von Sternberg wanted Lucie Mannheim as Lola Lola but the producer didn't think she could carry such an expensive production. Also considered were Trude Hesterberg (mistress of author Heinrich Mann) and Brigitte Helm.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
When the school caretaker finds Rath slumped over his old desk, the soundtrack ironically begins chiming the melody to Papageno's aria "Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen" from Mozart's "Die Zauberflöte" (The Magic Flute). In the aria, Papageno expresses his desire to find a girlfriend or wife who would bring joy to his life.