Saturday, January 18, 2003

DESIRE (1936)

Ernst Lubitsch produced this comedy which sparkles intermittently but feels a little too long. Some of it reminds me of Lubitsch's later BLUEBEARD'S EIGHTH WIFE, due in part to the European settings and to the presence of Gary Cooper who is relaxed and charming (and occasionally goofy) in both films. In the casually-paced opening sequence, Marlene Dietrich pulls off the daring theft of an expensive pearl necklace by pulling an elaborate trick on a jeweler (Ernest Cossart) and a psychiatrist (Alan Mowbray). She runs into a snag at customs and picks Cooper as her next victim, hiding the necklace in his jacket pocket. Eventually Dietrich and her partner in crime (John Halliday) try to recover the pearls as the police begin to close in on their ring, which includes Zeffie Tilbury as the deceptively sweet "Aunt Olga." Of course, Dietrich and Cooper fall in love and she decides to go straight for him, much to Halliday's chagrin. There are lots of small pleasures here. In the opening, as part of her front for getting the necklace, she tells Mowbray that the jeweler (supposedly her husband) imagines himself a scared schoolgirl and wears nightgowns to bed. Cooper sings a lot to himself, especially versions of a catchy car jingle--he's an engineer from Detroit on vacation. When Dietrich confesses her crime, his reaction is to give her an (offscreen) spanking. Dietrich is lovely, and Halliday and Cooper are both charming, and the whole supporting cast is fine, including William Frawley in a bit at the beginning as Cooper's boss. The film drags a bit in the middle, and is more ordinary than Dietrich's collaborations with Josef von Sternberg, but is worth catching.

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