Monday, September 21, 2009

Morocco (Josef von Sternberg) ***1/2

Josef von Sternberg

Cast: Gary Cooper, Marlene Dietrich, Adolphe Menjou

Background: Gary Cooper wasn't yet a huge star, but had a supporting role in Best Picture winner Wings and a breakout lead performance in The Virginian. Dietrich had already worked with director von Sternberg in The Blue Angel, but this was her major introduction to American audiences.

Story: The Foreign Legion arrives in the town of Mogador at the same time singer Amy Jolly (Dietrich) begins her nightclub act. Amy soon finds herself falling for legionairre Tom Brown (Cooper), but political intrigue threatens their romance.

Thoughts: Another solid effort from von Sternberg. He really has a knack for showing us complex characters, always uncertain about where they are and where they are going. Cooper and Dietrich take that concept and run with it to create memorable performances. Adolphe Menjou even shows up as "the other man" and is given multiple dimensions, refreshingly not a one note villain we're supposed to hate. Dietrich's opening night club sequence in a tux and top hat is unforgettable (including a same sex kiss), not to mention the follow up sequence where she sells "forbidden fruit" to the legionnaires. Despite not much happening in terms of story, the film evokes a nice mood of intrigue and gives you a great sense of the lives that these characters lead. Because of that, he's able to pull off an ending that probably sounded hokey as written, but is a wonderful cinematic moment.

Postscript: The film was nominated for four Oscars: Best Director, Best Lead Actress, Best Art Direction, and Best Cinematography. Both Dietrich and Cooper would go on to become major Hollywood stars.

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