Thursday, May 11, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Deserts

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join us on our journey by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

This week, on Thursday Movie Picks, it's hot and dry. Not a drop of water to be found, we are surrounded by the yellow sands of the desert. Feel the sun beating down with oppressive heat, feel the grits of sand that get caught in orifices you didn't even know you had... it's not fun, but thankfully, we only have to watch, not actually experience it ourselves!

Morocco (Josef von Sternberg, 1930) Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Marlene Dietrich, in a tuxedo, swanning through a French song with nary a care, kissing a woman full on the lips. Ah, the glorious days pre-Hays Code! Movies have never quite recovered from that, have they? Anyway, Morocco is all about how the heat of the desert can inflame passions to the point of explosion, as Gary Cooper's foreign legionnaire romances Dietrich's lounge singer despite the fact that they both admit that neither one of them is in a good place to be having a romantic relationship. If you've never seen it, it's VERY much worth a watch.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (Stephan Elliott, 1994) From the sublime to the FABULOUS! Three Australian drag queens hop on a bus to travel to a gig across the country, upending expectations and bringing fabulosity wherever they go. When they aren't squabbling, that is. Featuring some beautiful scenery, mind-blowing costumes, and three unbelievably against-type performances by Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving, and Guy Pearce. Priscilla looks at how the harshness of the desert landscape can bring out the harshness within us, if you aren't careful.

Beau Travail (Claire Denis, 1999) Extrapolating Herman Melville's famous novella Billy Budd into an elliptical examination of toxic masculinity and repressed homosexuality, Claire Denis's Beau Travail is completely brilliant, if you have the patience of a saint. Not gonna lie, this is a tough sit, but an utterly beguiling one, as a group of foreign legion soldiers in Djibouti is disrupted by the arrival of a pretty, young, innocent thing by the name of Sentain, who invokes the ire of their leader, Galoup. Passions can run high in the desert, so you need to watch your back.


  1. OMG! I love stour first 2 picks! I totally forgot about Morocco and it's just so campy yet just great although you know Marlene's feet will hurt without her shoes:) I almost picked Pricilla because it's a perfect choice for this week. The costumes are great( remember the Oscar winner's Amex dress?), the acting divine from 3 actors you never thought you would ever see in these outfits( Matrix guy..Hugo I love ya!) and I will never look at a golf ball the same way twice. The 3rd film I have not seen and probably won't to be honest

    1. lol YES! Poor Marlene! Love Priscilla so much! You pretty much know whether Beau Travail is your thing or not right away - if it's not, don't bother.

    2. I was thinking of picking The Garden of Allah, which also has Dietrich in the desert (this time with Charles Boyer), and gorgeous Technicolor.

  2. I haven't seen any of these but now I need to see Priscilla. That sounds amazing. lol

  3. I've been meaning to see Priscilla for ages. If I don't get to it real soon, it's going on the blind spot list next year. I should see the others, too.

  4. I love Dietrich and all her films, if only I could find the maddeningly elusive Song of Songs I'll have seen them all, and she is sensationally herself in every single one. Morocco is one of her most individual and best. It exploits her otherness while building up Gary Cooper as a lanky stud.

    Priscilla is again a singularly unique view. The three great lead performances, the costumes and its skewed outlook all blend together perfectly.

    I've yet to see Beau Travail for just the reason you sited. Several people have told me it's a challenge to get through. Someday perhaps.

    My first inclination was to go all Western but I ended up branching out a little, though I did include one straight Western with one of my favorite actresses.

    The Desert Song (1953)-Sometimes a movie is just so wildly miscast that you love it more for its faults than its strengths, that’s the case with this operetta. The basic story goes like so: There’s a civil war between Morocco’s Berber and Arab populations in the early 1900’s. French Foreign Legionnaire Gen. Birabeau arrives with daughter Margot (Kathryn Grayson) in tow to check the war’s progress while Arab Sheik Yousseff schemes to discredit the mysterious opposition leader El Khobar (Margot’s tutor in disguise) while Margot and El Khobar fall in love. Simple enough but what ratchets up the absurdity factor is that the Sheik is played by Raymond Massey, famous for playing Abraham Lincoln!, while El Khobar the Berber rebel leader is Gordon MacRae…that’s right Curley from Oklahoma!! If you can look beyond that the strapping Gordon and the lovely Kathryn are in great voice and the score is terrific but if you’re looking for realism look elsewhere.

    Rawhide (1951)-Feisty young Vinnie Holt (Susan Hayward) traveling with her orphaned niece Callie is stranded at the remote stagecoach stop “Rawhide Pass” in the acrid desert of the old West with stationmaster Sam Todd (Edgar Buchanan) and his assistant Tom Owens (Tyrone Power) when the cavalry won’t permit her to proceed through dangerous territory because of a stage robbery. After the soldiers leave, Jim Zimmerman (Hugh Marlowe) bluffs his way into the station saying he’s a guard but is actually one of the escaped convicts responsible for the robbery. His three fellow escapees quickly appear intent on stealing the gold shipment due in the next day. After killing Sam they must keep Tom and Vinnie, who they mistakenly believe is his wife, alive to carry out their plan. As the four men turn on each other Tom & Vinnie work together to try and escape. Tight suspenseful Western.

    Five Graves to Cairo (1943)-British Corporal John Bramble (Franchot Tone) is the lone survivor of a battle against Rommel’s army on the Egyptian border. Wandering through the desert he finds a remote hotel assuming a false identity to elude capture. Arriving shortly after is General Rommel himself (Erich von Stroheim) who takes Bramble for a German spy and lets slip hints of his secret strategy, the 'five graves' to Cairo-hidden excavations of supplies to enable survival across the desert. It’s up to Bramble to find a way to get word of the plan to the Allies and perhaps change the tide of the war.

    1. I really need to see more of Marlene's films. Right now it's just Morocco, Stage Fright, and Witness for the Prosecution. I've barely scratched the surface. Metrograph is doing a retrospective so I'm going to try to get down there for that - any recommendations?

      I've seen none of your picks, though Five Graves to Cairo and Rawhide have been on my list for a while.

    2. Rancho Notorious is bizarrely entertaining.

      Dietrich wears a stunning outfit in Blonde Venus.

      And you could do far worse than to go with her and Billy Wilder in A Foreign Affair.

    3. Well everything she made is worth seeing if only for her but aside from the three Ted mentioned I'd say:

      Shanghai Express-Where you find out why " it took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily."

      The Scarlet Empress-which is lavish almost beyond comprehension!

      The Lubitsch directed Angel.

      Destry Rides Again-She and James Stewart are gold in it.

      Manpower-An odd but interesting pairing of Dietrich, Edward G. Robinson & George Raft.

      The obscure Martin Roumagnac aka The Room Upstairs wherein she costars with Jean Gabin.

      The comedy The Lady is Willing-She's a ultra glamorous actress (surprise, surprise) who finds herself with a baby on her hands which leads to an involvement with a very hunky Fred MacMurray.

      No Highway in the Sky where she might be the most glamorous endangered airline passenger ever with the bonuses of Jimmy Stewart as her seat mate and Glynis Johns as the stewardess!

      Golden Earrings-even if the movie is a bit rough how many chances do you have to see Marlene as an earthy gypsy.

      She has a memorable cameo in Touch of Evil and is quite wonderful among many great performances in Judgement at Nuremberg.

    4. I can't possibly see all of these given how expensive Metrograph screenings are, but the ones I was most interested in are Lola, Blonde Venus, Shanghai Express, Scarlet Empress, and Touch of Evil. Destry, The Lady is Willing, Rancho Notorious, and A Foreign Affair were not on my radar, but are now.

      Would either of you recommend Dishonored or the Devil is a Woman? Those were the other two I was considering.

    5. Between those two I'd go with The Devil is a Woman, there's nothing wrong with Dishonored but Victor McLaglen is badly miscast in it. With Devil you not only get Marlene under von Sternberg's direction at Spanish Carnaval but Edward Everett Horton & Alison Skipworth too!

      As for the others most of them show up at least occasionally on TCM, some moreso than others.

      Would love to hear which you pick and what you think of the various ones as you see them.

  5. I also went with Priscilla for this week, I loved it!

  6. I haven't seen any of these but I've been meaning to watch Beau Travail, it sounds great.

  7. I saw Priscilla recently and loved it!