Morocco (1930)
Morocco (1930)

Genre: Romantic Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 32 min.

Release Date: December 6th, 1930 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Josef von Sternberg Actors: Gary Cooper, Marlene Dietrich, Adolphe Menjou, Eve Southern, Ullrich Haupt, Francis McDonald

 


 

A

s French Foreign Legion soldiers return to Morocco, anticipating copious amounts of booze and easy women, their commanding officer warns them about their expectations and behavior. One such trooper is cocky Private Tom Brown (Gary Cooper), who soon finds himself reclining in a club. Meanwhile, vaudeville actress Mademoiselle Amy Jolly (Marlene Dietrich) arrives for her first trip in the African kingdom, using a one-way ticket and getting dubbed a “suicide passenger” by the ship’s captain. She’s momentarily greeted by wealthy man-of-the-world and painter Monsieur La Bessiere (Adolphe Menjou), though he’s quickly dismissed by the tight-lipped woman who, with a steely resolve, appears capable of fending for herself in this exotic new environment.

As it turns out, she has a job all lined up, scheduled to sing (dressed in notably masculine apparel) at a packed nightclub – though the rowdy crowd is a mix of booing drunks and somewhat more respectable cheerers. Brown is in the audience, intent on pushing back agitated onlookers to give Jolly a chance to perform. He’s rewarded with a hint of attention, while she’s honored with riotous applause. Bessiere is also in attendance, hoping to use his affluence to win over the songbird, but she slips her house key to the Legionnaire instead.

Their romance starts slowly, casually, purposefully, and with a hard-to-get aura; her flirtations are evident, but she doesn’t want to appear too easily won over, especially considering that Brown has his own string of past partners, one of whom is the scheming Madame Caesar (Eve Southern), the wife of an adjutant (Ullrich Haupt). They both also harbor sordid pasts full of romantic disappointments and betrayals. “Anyone who has faith in me is a sucker.”

“You’d better go now. I’m beginning to like you.” It’s obvious from their first exchanged glances that Tom and Amy will end up together. But love triangles abound, jealousy provokes political retaliation, and trouble seems anxious to follow the lead duo; their union is certain to be plagued by envious interference. “Every time a man has helped me, there has been a price.”

Thanks to the careful character development, the main personas are exceptionally entertaining, despite the constant sense of ruin that hovers over their every embrace. Fortunately, they’re both incredibly tough and self-reliant; affections here are never teary-eyed affairs but somber proclamations or stoic clasps. Cooper doesn’t maintain his haughty bravado with the same consistency as Dietrich’s melancholy realist, occasionally revealing a childish glibness, while his military actions reinforce a heroic quality that his personality can’t quite produce independently. It doesn’t stop him from being an absorbing leading man, however.

Curiously, the potential for adventure on the battlefield is forfeited for the sake of romantic drama and social complications instead; it’s clear that director Josef von Sternberg is more concerned with the emotional discomfort of the wrong people ending up together than the excitement of wartime engagements. Yet Jolly fearfully scouring the faces of the marching Legionnaires as they return from their campaign in the Sahara undoubtedly holds a furor of its own, along with her angsty discovery of Brown’s possible hospitalization. She’s obviously in love, while his feelings are often concealed by a stubborn attachment to machismo; but by the end, as they struggle to convince themselves that they shouldn’t end up together for their own individual successes, a powerful reunion and realization is inevitable – accompanied by an absolutely unforgettable, dreamlike closing shot. In this blissful fantasy of love and war, nothing can keep them apart forever. “You forgot to say goodbye.”

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10