Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Morocco (1930)

Amy Jolly, played by Marlene Dietrich, is a singer making one last effort to survive by coming to Morocco. On the boat she meets a rich man, La Bessiere, played by Adolphe Menjou, who is more than kind. Once settled in a cabaret she locks eyes with philandering French Legionnaire, Private Tom Brown, played by Gary Cooper. The two come together, despite misgivings about the opposite sex and can't quite work out their feeling before parting ways thanks to responsibilities and misunderstandings. This leads Menjou to step in and pick up the pieces. When Dietrich and Cooper get another chance Dietrich makes a shockingly romantic, though perhaps misguided decision.

Dietrich plays a cool customer with a world weariness about her. She holds herself apart from people, worried of getting too entangled in relationships, especially with men. This aloofness works well with Dietrich’s personality. Usually clothed in dramatically luxurious costumes here her most sensational outfit is the tuxedo she wears at the cabaret. At several points she loses that chill demeanor and we peel back the mask. Watching Dietrich in distress was painful, mostly due to the fact that her lack of control felt unnatural. The scenes in which she panics wasn't believable, possibly because in all her other roles exudes this calm and collected personality and she usually plays strong women. Coming from another actor, perhaps Fontaine or funnily enough, de Havilland, I could believe the self-sacrifice. For Dietrich it seemed like a compromise she would never make, especially for a man with commitment issues. It would be easier to accept that she stays in Morocco and chooses to be on her own.

This was Dietrich’s first Hollywood film and it shows. She wasn't fluent in English at this point and spoke all of her lines phonetically, very much like Bela Lugosi in "Dracula". She also sings and let me just say that I resisted to the urge to skip the scene. I thought it was terrible and while I've never thought much of her singing ability but she's done better. This only managed to detract from the cabaret scene which is one of the more interesting parts of the film. In it, Dietrich dresses up in a tux, much to the chagrin of the cabaret owner. She walks out on stage and is immediately booed. I liked how she calmly waited for the audience and watched as Cooper shouted them down. What follows is a gender role reversal where Dietrich is the one in the suit, serenading the man. At one point she walks up to a woman, takes a flower from her and then kisses her. Censors originally wanted this cut from the film as they deemed it inappropriate. Dietrich was cleverly able to argue that continuity would be ruined as following this, she tosses Cooper the flower which he tucks behind his ear. The audience wouldn't know where the flower had come from if they cut out the kiss. It's important to note that this film was made in the Pre-Code Hollywood era. It's more than likely that the Hays Code would have cut that scene had the movie been made after 1934.

I won’t deny that Coop is a total stone fox in that legionnaire’s uniform but he’s practically a two by four in this part, with a blasé line delivery and a fairly unlikeable character. I've read that some people thought he brilliantly underplayed his character, making for a subtle performance. That he so matter-of-factly delivers each line makes him sound like a nervous child performing at a local theatre company.

This film wants to be a romance but in the end, I only felt bad for Dietrich's character and didn't agree with the choices she made. There are better movies out there about self-sacrifice. If you’re looking for a good Dietrich or a Cooper film, look elsewhere. For a better Dietrich film, try ”Shanghai Express” which came out just one year later and is a better film by miles. It has better costumes, better acting, a better plot and some iconic shots. For Coop may I suggest ”High Noon” a movie for which he won Best Actor at the Academy Awards. Here his stoic acting style lends itself to the material

1 comment:

The Rush Blog said...

I've also seen SHANGHAI EXPRESS. It irritated me. And Clive Brook was no Gary Cooper, unfortunately.