Marlene Dietrich's first American film is an atmospheric tale of love during wartime, exquisitely directed by Josef von Sternberg. Amy Jolly (Dietrich), a German singer, arrives in North Africa and is hired as the lead act in a cabaret frequented by members of the Foreign Legion. Pursued by
Le Bessier (Adolphe Menjou), a worldly gentleman, she finds herself attracted to handsome Legionnaire Tom Brown (Gary Cooper), who ultimately tests the strength of her love.
Like many of Sternberg's most memorable films, MOROCCO is an intelligently observed, passionately realized story of sexual obsession, slim on plot but heavy on atmosphere. Don't look for realism here: it's a sumptuous, overheated Orientalist fantasy peopled with characters (especially Dietrich)
who couldn't exist anywhere in the real world, let alone in a Moroccan desert city. MOROCCO would go a long way toward establishing Dietrich's unique star persona (THE BLUE ANGEL was held back from the US market until this Americanized Dietrich could be presented). Camera wizard Lee Garmes was
ordered by Sternberg to shoot Dietrich only from one side (an idea borrowed from Garbo films). But Dietrich's comparatively irregular features presented special problems. Garmes compensated with what he called "north light," positioning the key above her and slightly forward. It hollowed her
cheeks, shadowed her heavy eyelids, and masked the dimensions of her wide nose. Dietrich was thrilled with the effect; she would insist on similar lighting in movies, public appearances, and photo shoots for the length of her career.
Sternberg and Cooper didn't get along well, and the star resented the director's use of German on the set. Sternberg retaliated by blocking scenes so that Dietrich stands above Cooper, and he's forced to look up to her. Perhaps because of Cooper's mood of angry resignation, he delivers a fey,
inadvertently effective performance. His effete mannerisms--tucking a rose behind his ear, smoking with a limp wrist, kissing behind a fan--create a satisfying contrast with Dietrich's androgyny (which is most apparent when she kisses a woman on the mouth in a nightclub scene).
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Marlene Dietrich's first American film is an atmospheric tale of love during wartime, exquisitely directed by Josef von Sternberg. Amy Jolly (Dietrich), a German singer, arrives in North Africa and is hired as the lead act in a cabaret frequented by member… (more)