Wednesday, May 26, 2004


* * * (out of four)
Seen 24 May 2004 at the Brattle Theater (Von Sternberg: Dietrich and Beyond)

Dietrich's first American film and her second with Von Sternberg features what would soon become a familiar role - her as a nightclub entertainer who bewitches all those who see her. Here, the "victims" of her Amy Jolly are Gary Cooper as a member of the French Foreign Legion Adolphe Menjou as a recently arrived playboy. Amy falls for Cooper's Tom Brown, but he's a girl-in-every-oasis type, and soon must be deployed again. They'd had no strings, of course, but soon...

What makes Morocco remarkable for its time is its comfort with sexuality. Dietrich was one of the talkies' first sex symbols, and she smoulders whether she's performing in a skimpy dress or an all-covering tuxedo. If Britney Spears and Madonna raised eyebrows with a painfully staged buss just last year, Amy's kiss of a woman in the audience during her first night at the club comes off as spontaneous and spirited. She is the one who intiates things with Brown, although he's far from prudish himself.

Morocco is a destination in this movie for people who are leaving something behind. We don't know quite what either Amy or Tom has in their past, although Amy refers to her work at the club as being like a "Legion for women". It doesn't much matter, though - we don't need to know why they've left their lives behind, just that they have. It's the same kind of economy that Von Sternberg later showed in Shanghai Express, although here he had a better cast to work with. There's also fewer opportunities to trip over the dialogue, since it was apparently minimized in order to handle Dietrich's limited English. She does sing, alas, but she's sexy enough to distract from that.

One thing that seemed odd, though, was that Amy's growth seems to go somewhat in reverse - we first see her as this strong, independant woman in full command of her own sexuality, and by the end, she hasn't exactly been subjugated, but she's totally committed to a man. She's no longer the self-contained creature she was at the start of the film. That's not to say falling in love is a regression of any kind, but there's not much indication that something was missing prior to her meeting Tom. Maybe that one thing could have taken an entertaining, atmospheric romance to the next level.

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