This little vignette best symbolizes the main drama to come - and especially describes the relationship between the two main characters, Mlle. Amy Jolly (Marlene Dietrich) and Legionnaire Tom Brown (Gary Cooper). Despite their strong attraction to one another - they each cannot fully commit themselves to the other. Something in their nature stubbornly holds them back...
Director Josef Von Sternberg made MOROCCO in Hollywood and was his follow-up to the very successful DER BLAUE ENGEL (THE BLUE ANGEL). In fact, the first part of MOROCCO seems so much like DER BLAUE ENGEL that you could mistake it for a remake. Both films star Marlene Dietrich. Her character Lola Lola in DER BLAUE ENGEL has a lot in common with Amy Jolly in MOROCCO. Both films showcase the singing of bawdy songs. Both take place in a nightclub with an older man falling for Dietrich's characters. The older gentleman in MOROCCO is Monsieur La Bessiere (Adolphe Menjou) - a wealthy frenchman trying to win Mlle. Jolly's heart...but she is at first ambivalent to his advances:
- "Every time a man has tried to help me, there has been a price. What's yours?"
- "My price?.......a smile."
- "I don't think I have much more..."
MOROCCO begins to diverge from DER BLAUE ENGEL's story arc with Amy Jolly's developing relationship with the young and handsome legionnaire portrayed by Gary Cooper. Cooper seems a strange pick to play opposite the exotic Dietrich and his familiar "aw-shucks" performance nearly derails this film for me...but at the time, Cooper was Paramount's top star and that was all that really mattered. Cooper was handsome and sexy... and Dietrich was pretty and sexy. It's all about the hormones really...!!!
In classic films - Morocco seemed the ideal place to run away from one's past. Rick Blaine did it in CASABLANCA. So too Amy Jolly and Tom Brown in MOROCCO:
"When I crashed The Legion - I ditched the past", explains Tom on how he came to be in Morocco.
Amy Jolly looks at Tom - "There is a foreign legion of women too....but we have no uniforms, no flags, no medals".
I haven't seen very many of Joseph Von Sternberg's films - but the ones I have seen are beautifully filmed. His sets always seem so sumptuous. MOROCCO is no exception. It's as exotic looking as it's title suggests. I'm finding that the more I watch MOROCCO, the more I like it - which was my experience too with THE BLUE ANGEL. I thought MOROCCO has a terrific beginning and ending. I won't divulge exactly why I like the beginning so you can discover for yourself. I try not to read too much about a film prior to watching it - so an iconic moment in MOROCCO wasn't spoiled for me. It's the reason I enjoy watching pre-code films.
But I will leave you instead with this bit dialogue from the film:
Cooper's legionnaire character, who is supposed to be standing at attention, spots a prostitute from across the street. She silently gestures with her fingers how much she will cost for a good time. Cooper silently gestures back a counter-offer with his fingers. A sergeant nearby spots Cooper gesturing and yells at him for not standing at attention:
"What are you doing with your fingers?!?!"
Ranking the Josef Von Sternberg films I have seen so far:
THE BLUE ANGEL - 10
THE SCARLET EMPRESS - 9
MOROCCO - 8.5
SHANGHAI EXPRESS - 8.5
MACAO - 7
need to see more!
I never was much of a fan of Marlene Dietrich. I loved her in "Blue Angel" (1930) where she portrayed truly a femme fatale that men fell hard for. But, once Joef von Sternberg brought her to the states, she always played these wildly exotic women who, like Garbo, always get involved in these romantic triangles, and always leaves the rich suitor to chase after the handsome poor one.
This is the same for this movie, her first in the States. Cabaret singer, Amy Jolly (Dietrich) arrives in Morocco and bumps into Monsieur La Bessiere (Adolphe Menjou) who immediately falls in love with her. Bessiere is rich and knows all kinds of different people. However, he's a realist though and knows that Amy is a free spirit, who picks her own friends.
Tom Brown (Gary Cooper) is in the French Foreign Legion. Although his uniform is kind of scruffy, it's got a lot of medals on it. However, Tom has got a fatal weakness for the ladies. Perhaps his cavalier attitude with women is what got him in the Foreign Legion to begin with, where nobody asks you about your past. Maybe it's because Tom's always marching off from here to there, that he only deals with local hookers, or at least women of very easy virtue.
When Amy meets Tom in her club, the attraction is electric. And, although Tom plays it cool, he's as madly in love with Amy as she in him. He actually contemplates going AWOL and running away with Amy until he sees all of her other adoring fans and all of their flowers and champagne, and thinks better of it. It's better to stay with the girls you know, but surprisingly, Amy keeps showing up.