Morocco (Josef Von Sternberg, 1930)
Often considered as the peak of the Josef Von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich collaboration, Morocco is perhaps one of the most important films of the 1930’s. The so-called peak of the duo of actress director fueled by their love relationship is in this critics’ mind The Scarlet Empress. Just like their previous film together, The Blue Angel, Dietrich plays a cabaret singer called Amy Jolly that seduces more than one man. An important fact to know about this is that Dietrich used to be a cabaret singer and her appeal on goes beneath the screen. It is obvious that at twenty nine years old she fully understands the motives of her character and the musical numbers are so well acted that it is no guess to stipulate that it is herself and not the character that we witness on the screen.
Set in Morocco, this love story of a woman (Marlene Dietrich) split between two men, a soldier (Gary Cooper) and a rich gentleman (Adolphe Menjou). While the soldier is stuck with the Army and his constant moving, the gentleman has money and offers a life of high society to Amy Jolly. However, Amy chooses the stability of the rich man but still secretly loves the soldier who is hiding his true feelings to the woman. It is a story that has been told thousands of time but it is Dietrich’s brilliant presence and Von Sternberg’s sumptuous directing that makes this love triangle so unforgettable.
As with his other directorial credits, Von Sternberg creates a universe that we can only capture at the sight of his masterpieces with saturated frames, artistic camera movements and a lighting that obviously shows how he loves his leading lady always showing her beautiful facets. He likes to fulfill his frames and give an overwhelming image of the scene he shoots. The space is used at the maximum capacity and some elements are near the objective like the plants in a superb swooping camera movement where Dietrich is looking for Cooper in the hospital. We have a sense of how the atmosphere of the set and the locations. It is interesting to enter into Von Sternberg’s world because it involves more that just the sense of sighting. The audience smells the cigarettes, hears the movement everywhere around the central action and on our chair we feel crowded like the characters on the screen. A Von Sternberg film is an involving experience and one must enter into it with a good meal a plenty of energy because it demands a lot to the viewer but it is a great reward afterwards. The final shot of this film is just simply perfect.
As one of the Pantheon Directors of Andrew Sarris’ Directors and Directions reference book, Josef Von Sternberg demonstrates with Morocco how he fully deserves his place amongst the greats of this list. A must see that I recommend.