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Gary Cooper turns out to be a leading indicator in Von Sternberg's "Morocco.". There's an acting-shaped hole in his performance.
A romance that is almost never romantic. Even the ending, which involves a grand gesture feels more sad than anything else.
The best romance movie ever made!
I like the idea of Gary Cooper in the role of a libertine as opposed to some of his â~aw shucksâ(TM) type parts, but he has a way of delivering his lines that is awkward and slow in Morocco, and unfortunately he doesnâ(TM)t come close to keeping up with Marlene Dietrich. As you might guess sheâ(TM)s as electric as ever, and sure, has that moment in top hat and tails kissing a woman in the crowd that gets a lot of attention (as I suppose it should), but there are also many others where her eyes and subtle smile command all attention. I thought she had a little less to work with in this collaboration with Josef von Sternberg, but the message the film offers is touching. von Sternberg gives us a little of the â~exoticismâ(TM) of the setting, though itâ(TM)s not as beautiful as many of his other films, and has a few problematic bits (e.g. referring to the enemy army as â~those walking bed sheetsâ(TM)). The pacing is also a little on the slow side.
There are a couple of things in the film that caught my eye (you know, aside from Dietrich, who I would pretty much see in anything). When Cooper is sent off on a difficult mission he realizes it might be orchestrated to kill him, since heâ(TM)s also carrying on with the commanderâ(TM)s wife. As heâ(TM)s called to go take out a machine gun nest, an officer follows him with a pistol, and Cooper realizes he has to keep an eye on him as well as the enemy. This is a real phenomenon in war that the military doesnâ(TM)t generally want publicized, and I thought the whole scene was handled brilliantly. The other thing, which is more central to the point of the film, is in how Adolphe Menjou deals with his love for Dietrich. He knows heâ(TM)s the weak link in the triangle, and that her real affection lies with Cooper. There is such grace and understanding in his acceptance of her, that if he can have her even knowing this, itâ(TM)s ok with him, and if she wants to leave, heâ(TM)ll let her go. When sheâ(TM)s about to rush off to the hospital to see Cooper, leaving behind a dinner party for her engagement with Menjou, heâ(TM)s forced to leave them too. âYou see, I love her,â? he says with such dignity, âI do anything to make her happy.â?
And that is essentially the message: true love involves sacrifice. In a film that alludes to Cooperâ(TM)s philandering and has Dietrich giving scandalized viewers of 1930 a little taste of bisexuality, itâ(TM)s really about the purity of love, and those pre-code elements are somewhat minor. It was subtle how Cooper abruptly changed his mind, but he had been willing to leave, knowing that she would have more material wealth with Menjou. (We have to set aside the fact that heâ(TM)s enjoying the physical comforts of a bevy of dark-haired local women immediately afterwards, but hey, go with it.) Menjou is then later willing to step aside, knowing that she loves Cooper. Thus the two men show their love by letting love go, and interestingly enough, Dietrich shows it by refusing to let go, even if it means giving up everything and going into the desert barefoot. I guess sometimes you have to let go, and other times you have to cling tight. That big moment is beautiful, though it wasnâ(TM)t quite as powerful for me as it should have been, because I didnâ(TM)t feel the chemistry between the pair, or think Cooperâ(TM)s character was one she would do that for. With a stronger leading man I would have rated it higher, but even as it is, itâ(TM)s worth seeing.
Was it Josef von Sternberg who claimed that he was "painting with light" in his pictures? If so, Morocco (his second film with muse Marlene Dietrich) really fits the bill. His Morocco is all dappled alleyways and shafts of light piercing latticework to create patterns on walls. As in his earlier silent films and the ongoing work with Dietrich yet to come, style is paramount here. The romance between cabaret singer Dietrich and French Legionnaire Gary Cooper is melodramatic, perhaps schematic, but everything is heightened by the sets, the mise-en-scene, the costumes and the lighting, that brings the fantasy to life (nothing on location here, nor does it need to be). Dietrich is already her own woman, strong and compelling (particularly on stage, where, yes, this is the film in which she wears at tux and kisses a girl), but able to give herself up to Coop (only after he has made it clear that his womanizing is a front to protect himself from being hurt by her when she seems to be giving in to the amorous advances of rich Adolphe Menjou). It is easy to drift through this film, taking in its splendours and exoticism (as seen from the vantage point of the 1930s), and not worry too much about whether Dietrich and Cooper will end up together (we know they will) and whether Menjou will nobly accept this (we know he does). This may not be the pinnacle of the von Sternberg-Dietrich oeuvre but it shows them on the way up.
Morocco does have a good turn from Marlene Dietrich, it is charming at times and it has a couple of interesting sequences, but it is mostly a middling affair with more emphasis on its setting instead of story, characters and memorable romance leading to a film that is underdeveloped and weak in most of its aspects with the character development and script being the worst offenders.
Very thin story, and unfortunately the star power of Dietrich and Cooper didn't do much for me in this film.
cooper & dietrich sizzle in this pre-code adventure pic
Though I greatly prefer the silent films von Sternberg made, he was certainly no slouch when Marlene Dietrich was in front of the camera and sound entered the picture, either. Still, von Sternberg, by being so visually magical behind the camera, was one of the best at keeping the magic of silent cinema intact even in the transition to 'talkies'. This, as all his films with the sultry singer/actress, are essential for any serious film enthusiast.
Through a cracky copy of this film, we see a young Gary Cooper and Marlene Dietrich doing her thing before and beyond what the Code would ever permit. It is probably the only interesting part to the film. I don't know if was jaded at seeing such a poor copy but the thrills were few and far between.