A few years ago, my wife bought me a English copy of Heinrich Mann’s PROFESSOR UNRAT (retitled as THE BLUE ANGEL by the publisher), a 1979 edition which was also bundled with notes from THE BLUE ANGEL director Joseph von Sternberg, as well as a transcribed copy of THE BLUE ANGEL’s screenplay (which Sternberg immediately undercuts in his notes, as he specifies that they improvised the bulk of the dialogue and he doesn’t see the point of the transcription endeavor). Anyway, I didn’t get around to reading it until recently.
I thought that the novel wouldn’t have many surprises — I assumed that the film hewed pretty closely to the source material — but I was dead wrong. It’s as if Sternberg read the first forty pages, then skipped to the end and filled in the rest on his own, resulting in a radically different work than the film. (To Sternberg’s credit, he allegedly discussed his changes with Mann and Mann wholeheartedly endorsed them, adding that he wished he’d thought of the ending himself which, uh, -does not track- as Sternberg’s ending wouldn’t work at all for Mann’s novel.)
PROFESSOR UNRAT is the story of a poorly respected, older professor — Professor Mut, often referred to as ‘Mud’ or ‘Old Mud’ (in the original German, his name is Professor Unrat — it’s literally the title of the book — which I believe more translates to ‘Unclean’ or ‘Garbage’), who falls in love with Rosa, a tawdry song-and-dance actor who is known for shoeless Greek dances. However, unlike the film, the novel is the story of a bully, a man who utilizes his wife to bring ruin to an entire town full of prior students he felt had slighted him.
To be reductive, Mann’s PROFESSOR UNRAT feels closer to BREAKING BAD as opposed to the fallen man melodrama of Sternberg’s THE BLUE ANGEL.
One last thing: the translation I read was from 1932. The 1979 edition didn’t bother to re-transcribe it. As far as I know, there isn’t a newer translation which is a shame because, frankly, this translation seems suspect for the reasons noted above, but it also just seems sloppy in general. There’s a lot of poor syntax and, frankly, it’s often a clumsy, awkward read, and I’m pretty sure that’s not due to Mann’s writing. Don’t get me wrong: it’s still a fascinating text, especially if you’re familiar with the adaptation, but it’s worth reading on its own merit.