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The Foreign Legion marches in to Mogador with booze and women in mind just as singer Amy Jolly arrives from Paris to work at Lo Tinto's cabaret. That night, insouciant legionnaire Tom Brown catches her inimitably seductive, tuxedo-clad act. Both bruised by their past lives, the two edge cautiously into a no-strings relationship while being pursued by others. But Tom must leave on a perilous mission: is it too late for them? Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
MOROCCO (Paramount, 1930), directed by Josef Von Sternberg, is noteworthy for introducing Marlene Dietrich to the American screen. Following her triumph as seductress/ cabaret entertainer, Lola-Lola, in Germany's initial talkie, THE BLUE ANGEL (1929), Von Sternberg worked wonders with her once again, placing Marlene in the desert stirring up interest between a wealthy suitor and a womanizing legionnaire instead of building sand castles or earning extra tips parking camels by the oasis.
Starting off in travelogue style with the camera on the circling globe before reaching a halt over the Northwest region of Africa. The introduction turns to legionnaires of the French Foreign Legion marching into Morocco, with Tom Brown (Gary Cooper) attracting the attention of a couple of women awaiting his return. Next scene goes to the steamer outside Morocco about to dock where Mademoiselle Amy Jolly (Marlene Dietrich), one of the passengers, awaits her new venture. Having made the acquaintance of Monsieur LeBessiere (Adolphe Menjou), a wealthy French artist, he offers her assistance, but is told, "I don't need any help." Wanting to know more about this mysterious woman, he asks the captain, who labels her as a "suicide passenger," one who travels with a one way ticket. After making a sensational debut in Lo Tinto's (Paul Porcasi) café, Amy encounters LeBessiere once again, but draws her attention towards Tom Brown sitting with his legionnaire friends. After selling him an apple, she gives him the key to her dressing room where they later get acquainted. Fearing Mademoiselle to be gaining power over him, Brown leaves. As Amy follows, she saves him from being found in the clutches of Madame Caesar (Eve Southern), wife of his senior commanding officer (Ullrich Haupt), who already has his suspicions. Cleared by Amy Jolly's testimony, Brown is released from jail and sent on a dangerous mission in the Sahara. Thinking about deserting and going away with Amy, Tom suddenly changes his mind (again!), leaving her to accept LeBessiere's marriage proposal. Learning that Tom may be wounded, Amy breaks away from her engagement party to locate him. Amy does find Tom, but not exactly recuperating in a hospital bed.
As important was THE BLUE ANGEL for Dietrich's career in Germany, MOROCCO was even more crucial for her in Hollywood. Had MOROCCO failed, Dietrich might have become another one of several European imports at the time to either return to their homeland to further advance her career, or fade away to obscurity with few films to her credit. Dietrich's performance made such an impact that she was nominated for an Academy Award, the only time in her long and successful career. Lee Garmes was also honored for his fine cinematography.
In spite of its slow pacing, being the Von Sternberg style, MOROCCO offers several scenes worth noting, including Dietrich's vocalizing of "Quand L'Amour Meurt" and "What Am I Bid For My Apples?" (by Leo Robin and Earl Hajos). For the first song sung entirely in French, Dietrich makes history dressed in tuxedo, bow tie and top hat stopping over to a female patron and kissing her briefly on the lips. This alone is what makes MOROCCO so memorable today. There's another interesting scene with the marching of the legionnaires marching out of Morocco, with the camera remaining full focus on them and camp followers until their disappearance into the far distance as the drum playing is slowly drowned out by the howling desert winds.
Regardless of others in the cast, consisting of Francis J. McDonald as Corporate Barney Tatoche, Brown's friend; Juliette Compton (Anna Dolores); and Albert Conti (Corporal Quinneviernes), the sole interest falls on its central characters: Dietrich's Amy Jolly is a loner embittered by men, yet not afraid to take a chance making the first move, especially with her exotic eyes; Gary Cooper's underplays his role as the "love 'em and leave 'em" guy, yet retains his usual screen personality, to at one point reciting his famous catch phrase, "Yep." Aside from being an "I don't care type," he's also has self respect for refusing to accept a free apple from Amy, claiming that he "always pay for what he gets," even when borrowing 20 francs for it; Menjou, whose career ranges from leads to secondary roles, is properly cast as a suitor who offers a woman unconditional love, knowing full well she cares nothing for him.
MOROCCO is one of many films from the Paramount library to be available on home video and DVD format. Television revivals were frequent when shown on commercial or public television prior to the 1990s; infrequent on cable television, especially with few revivals on Turner Classic Movies where it premiered January 2003 as part of its "star of the month" tribute to Marlene Dietrich. The movie itself probably didn't promote tourism in Morocco, but it sure helped place Dietrich on the Hollywood map. (***)
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