Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Hit Me With Your Best Shot - Morocco

Written as part of the series hosted by the lovely Nathaniel R. at The Film Experience, THE essential site for film lovers and actressexuals of all shapes and sizes!

What becomes a legend most?

Not caring. Not having any ever-loving fucks left to give. THAT is what becomes a legend most. For what does a legend care for the peons of the world - those people beneath her who would grovel at her feet for the chance of getting a glance from her ever-shrouded eyes, the "little people" who encompass most of us? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

Oh, she may have her reasons. She could be so insanely talented that everyday trivialities are nothing to her. She could be so unbelievably beautiful that she simply cannot bear to look at anything not as lovely as she. Or, she could have been hurt so deeply and so often over the course of her life that she has realized that there's nothing left in this world she could possibly give a damn about.

Except maybe this man. Because let's be honest, who wouldn't?

Josef von Sternberg's Morocco wasn't my introduction to Marlene Dietrich (that would be Alfred Hitchcock's Stage Fright), but it was my introduction to the work that defined her (with von Sternberg), and somehow I hadn't watched it until now. Well let me tell you, the lady is AMAZING. Amy Jolly is the baddest bitch on the seven continents and then some. Help her pack up her luggage after it collapses open on a boat? Whatever. Employ her to sing at your café in the titular country and give her advice on how to work the crowd? Alright, fine, if you must. But you best believe that when she does deign to pay attention to you, she will only do so with complete and utter disdain:

Silver Medal

Basically, that same insouciance that makes Buster Keaton one of the silver screen's greatest comedians makes Marlene Dietrich one of its greatest Divas. She is the living personification of the old adage "Less is More," and it took me seeing Morocco to realize it.

Bronze Medal

Watch as one by one she singlehandedly disarms every single man around her! Thrill to her shocking performance in... SHOCK... menswear! Gasp as she works the crowd by kissing a woman full on the mouth! IN 1930!!!

She kissed a girl. She liked it.

But when she finally gets Gary Cooper alone, she reveals where that give-no-fucks, take-no-prisoners attitude comes from. She's been let down by a few too many men. Turns out, her strength comes from a place of deep sadness, a mask she puts on to get through the day. We finally see the real Amy(/Marlene) in this shot, just as Cooper's legionnaire tells her that he wishes he had met her ten years ago - before he joined the Foreign Legion:


He's all but told her he loves her, and she looks like she's just been told she has forty-eight hours to live, like she's going back into hiding after sticking her nose out of her hole. Von Sternberg even has her dressed in black and boxed into the frame - here she is, in the same trap she's found herself in time and again, and the only way out is to cut it off now, before she gets in too deep. Again. What a beautiful character moment - one that makes you see her in a completely different (but still drop-dead sexy) light.


  1. She was filmed beautifully by Sternberg and she was very daring for her time. Considering the gal like both sexes and was a predator in real life just adds to her mystique. I should see this film again because I kind of snickered at it especially when she walks onto the hot desert sun without her shoes to follow the Coop

    1. So true... von Sternberg really knew how to shoot her so perfectly. You can't take your eyes off her - so mysterious and interestingly, differently beautiful.

  2. All her films with von Sternberg, I've seen them all except The Devil is a Woman, are trippy borderline bizarre experiences but I think Morocco is probably the apex of their partnership.

    She is so assured within herself that the camera can't help but draw it attention to her. Cooper is dreamy in his lanky way and has a charisma that radiates as well but in a match up scene it's always she that you watch. It is within her not the character she plays which is why she was able to refine and adapt it through the years and was able to endure until she chose to walk away.

    1. This is the only von Sternberg film I've seen, and I thought it was overall pretty great - a bit... odd in some ways. I don't know that I'd go so far as to call it bizarre, but there are moments when it almost gets there, and probably really did feel that way in its day. You are so right, my eyes were always drawn to her in a scene, no matter who she was playing against. It's interesting seeing this after her later work like Stage Fright and Witness for the Prosecution, when she had a better idea of and grasp on her persona and talents.