“Every time a man has helped me, there has been a price. What’s yours?”
A sultry nightclub singer (Marlene Dietrich) in Morocco falls for a womanizing Foreign Legion soldier (Gary Cooper) while being wooed by a kind millionaire (Adolph Menjou).
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that in her second collaboration with director Josef von Sternberg — and “her first Hollywood film” — Marlene Dietrich “is quite an attraction”, “whether wearing a tux and kissing a woman on the mouth (!) or a skimpy outfit that reveals her long, luscious legs”. He notes it’s “refreshing that both [Cooper and Dietrich] play characters who have had numerous affairs”, and that “they are both free to express passion”. In his Alternate Oscars, he names Dietrich Best Actress of the Year for her role here as Amy Jolly, arguing that she’s “perfect because she understood the importance of ‘presence’ on the screen — and knew she had it — and because she conveyed the self-knowledge that her audience was watching a unique star”. He adds that her character’s “ironic wit/nature comes from knowing that she is condemned by the male-dominated society for using sex to manipulate men when even they know she must use her body to survive”, and that “she maintains an air of superiority and startling indifference”. However, while it’s true that “Dietrich, who seems to be followed around by smoke, is at her most likable”, we never learn enough about her to understand her as anything other than a confident yet jaded woman who, over the course of the film, gradually “become[s] less flamboyant” and thinks “of herself more as a typical woman”. (We know even less about Cooper.) Although Dietrich does have impressive star presence and gives a fine performance, I don’t believe the screenplay of this “erotic and exotic” film does her justice.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Beautiful cinematography by Lee Garmes
No, though it’s worth a look for its historical relevance and cinematic beauty.