Tuesday, July 12, 2011

MOROCCO (1930)

Gary Cooper is a Foreign Legionnaire who is temporarily stationed in Morocco, where he gets the hots for Marlene Dietrich, a sultry singer and dancer in a small café. On her first night, she causes a sensation when she comes out in a tuxedo; the rowdy crowd makes fun of her, but they are silenced by Cooper, who wants to let her do her thing. Her thing consists of strolling through the crowd flirting with everyone (even giving a seductive kiss to a shocked young woman) and tossing Cooper a flower as she leaves the floor. However, the older and richer Adolphe Menjou is also obsessed with Dietrich, and he has the means to help her rise in society. While Cooper goes after Dietrich, he is not lacking for female companionship, and his affair with his boss's wife leads to trouble. Menjou gets the officer to tone down a threatened court-martial and instead Cooper is sent out to the desert to fight Arabs. He wants to quit the Legion and run off with Dietrich, but she's not sure she can give up the creature comforts that Menjou can give her. She moves in with the older man, but at their engagement party, Cooper's troop marches through the streets, on their way to another desert station. The next morning, Dietrich gives up everything to join the "rear guard" of the besotted women who follow the Legionnaires.

As with most of Marlene Dietrich's collaborations with director Josef von Sternberg, the plot is not the point, Dietrich is, aided by the lush visuals surrounding her. She (and Sternberg) don't disappoint here; Dietrich is exotically beautiful and sounds as sexy as she looks. Cooper, young, lanky and confident, is almost as sexy as she is. "Languid" is the word that kept coming to my mind, in a positive way, for Dietrich, Cooper, and the overall tone. One review I read of the movie noted how unusual it is to have a situation in which both the male and female protagonists are sexually experienced; they are both, in their way, "bad." Even better, neither one really has to reform by the end, though Dietrich has to sacrifice her secure way of life. It's beautifully photographed, and though clearly not shot in Africa, the sets and locations provide a plausible Moroccan fantasy, just as they do for CASABLANCA. As a bonus, Dietrich sings two songs in her inimitable style. [TCM]

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