Saturday, March 5, 2011

Morocco (1930)

4 Nominations, 0 Wins

Films like Morocco are the best part of the Every Oscar Ever project. Though as a Gary Cooper fan I likely would have stumbled upon the film eventually, I am glad not to have missed this film. The film is best known as the film that shot Marlene Dietrich to stardom. Dietrich earned her sole Oscar nomination for the film, and shocked audiences by appearing in a tuxedo and kissing a woman. My previous experience with Dietrich was limited to Witness for the Prosecution, and though she was wonderful in that film, after seeing Morocco I now truly understand her appeal. What's all the more impressive is that at the time of filming, she did not yet speak English and thus learned the part phonetically. Much has been written about the partnership between director Josef von Sternberg and Dietrich, but after watching Morocco its easy to understand the assertion of many that there are few pairings between director and actress that compare to von Sternberg and Dietrich.

While it is nearly impossible to imagine anyone standing up to Dietrich's presence in Morocco, Gary Cooper does an admirable job. Though he does not demonstrate his famed cadence and his acting skills were not yet what they would later become, he does display the classic Cooper charisma and charm, and he and Dietrich have very solid chemistry. Sadly, Adolphe Menjou isn't given the chance to pose much of a challenge to Cooper, but he does turn in a solid performance.

Aside from Dietrich's nomination for Best Actress, the film was also nominated for Best Director for von Sternberg, Art Direction for Hans Dreier, and Cinematography for Lee Garmes. All four of the nominations were strongly deserved, and any of them could have easily won. In particular, von Sternberg's loss to Norman Taurog for the sweet but slight Skippy is laughable, though Wesley Ruggles's direction of Cimarron was a worthy competitor. The film is visually gorgeous, succeeding in the impossible task of matching Dietrich's beauty.

The film, though light on plot, succeeds almost entirely due to the chemistry between Dietrich and Cooper. Most consider the highlight of the film to be the extended scene that introduces Dietrich to Cooper during Dietrich's nightclub performance, but for my money the ending is the film's finest moment. Without spoiling the ending, it provides a satisfying yet elusive resolution to the film's conflict in a beautifully filmed final shot. Josef von Sternberg was one of the most gifted directors of Hollywood's early sound years, and Morocco is an absolute gem that I was thrilled to come across.

Remaining: 3174 films, 882 Oscars, 5461 nominations

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