Gary Cooper and Marlene Dietrich in Morocco (1930)


(director: Josef von Sternberg; screenwriters: from the book and play Amy Jolly by Benno Vigny/Jules Furthman; cinematographers: Lee Garmes/Lucien Ballard (uncredited); editor: S.K. Winston; music: Karl Hajos; cast: Gary Cooper (Légionnaire Pvt. Tom Brown), Marlene Dietrich (Amy Jolly), Adolphe Menjou (Mons. Le Bessiere), Ullrich Haupt (Adjutant Caesar), Julie Compton (Anna Dolores), Eve Southern (Mme. Caesar), Francis McDonald (Sergeant), Emile Chautard (Officer), Paul Porcasi (Lo Tinto, Nightclub Owner); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Hector Turnbull; Paramount; 1930)
“Enjoyable as lightweight entertainment.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Morocco was Marlene Dietrich’s first American film, and her first Hollywood collaboration with director Josef von Sternberg. They made The Blue Angel the previous year in Germany. Dietrich plays the world-weary sex siren Amy Jolly, who leaves Paris with a one-way ticket to work in a Morocco nightclub catering to a rough crowd of mostly French Foreign Legionnaires. There she meets the cocky womanizer, Pvt. Tom Brown (Gary Cooper), who joined the Foreign Legion to “forget” about his past. It’s adapted by Jules Furthman from the book and play Amy Jolly by Benno Vigny. Though the exotic romantic enticement situation reveals how outdated and silly it all is, nevertheless it remains enjoyable as lightweight entertainment. The film is noted for the curious scene where Marlene dressed as a man in a tuxedo and high top hat for her opening nightclub number, kisses the female admirer smack on the lips who presented her with a flower. Morocco was a big b.o. hit and received Oscar nominations for director von Sternberg, actress Dietrich, cinematographer Lee Garmes, and for Hans Dreier’s interior decoration.

Dietrich toys with wiseguy Cooper, who is surrounded by women at the nightclub; but he falls for the singer. Wealthy, suave, middle-aged French playboy bachelor Le Bessiere (Adolphe Menjou) also falls for the siren, and to gain favor helps her out by using his influence when Cooper is facing a court martial at the hands of the legionnaires’ Adjutant Caesar–whose wife he’s having an affair with. Le Bessiere saves Cooper’s skin by having him sent off to the Sahara to engage in a dangerous battle. Dietrich then agrees to marry Menjou, after she keeps him dangling on a string. But in the end she sacrifices herself to follow Cooper around wherever he is stationed, as she becomes enslaved by her love for him and tags along with some other native women who follow their men as they march through the desert. Dietrich chooses lust over safety and comfort.

Despite the absurd plot, the film was well-crafted, its exotic location and lush decor were pleasing to the eye, and the lively and steamy performances by the costars was pure movie magic. Dietrich excites when she sings a few numbers, I was especially pleased when she sang “Quand L’amour Est Mort” and followed with “What Am I Bid?” and then sells apples to the nightclub crowd.