Sunday, September 29, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Morocco (1930) at the Aero Theatre

We enjoyed a marvelous afternoon today at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica!

The occasion was a double bill of two Marlene Dietrich films, MOROCCO (1930) and SHANGHAI EXPRESS (1932).

The movies were preceded by a wonderfully informative presentation on pre-Codes and fashion by our friend Kimberly Truhler; Kim also gave an excellent background on Dietrich's early years and her fashion colloborations with costume designer Travis Banton.

Kim blogs at GlamAmor and just accepted a position as Executive Director of the Woman's Club of Hollywood; she also has an upcoming book on film noir style.

There was a wonderful turnout at the Aero by the L.A. area classic film community, with several friends in attendance, and it was a wonderful surprise to enter the theater and discover one of our film friends from New York had come out just to attend the screenings! While she was in town she also got to attend Jeremy Arnold's 75th anniversary presentations of LAURA (1944) and DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944)! I would have loved to be able to be there.

This was my third time to see SHANGHAI EXPRESS, and I loved it all over again. This film was a big factor in finally enabling me to appreciate Dietrich's screen persona; I also love "train movies," and this film is a wonderful example. I've now seen SHANGHAI EXPRESS three times in three and a half years so I think it can safely be said that I love it! I'm sure I'd be happy to watch it again next year.

Today was my first time to see MOROCCO (1930), which was Dietrich's first American film. It was wonderfully stylish in every way. Truth to tell, the plot's not much, as the love between cabaret performer Dietrich and French Foreign Legion soldier Gary Cooper which develops in Morocco is pretty much built on nothing; they spend a lot of time staring at each other, powerfully attracted, but there's not much more to it. Meanwhile a wealthy, kind man (Adolphe Menjou) waits in the wings, hoping Dietrich will put Cooper behind her and marry him.

That really doesn't matter, though, as despite the minimal plot the movie manages to propel forward in brisk fashion, with its gorgeous leads in marvelous set pieces, with beautifully filmed fashions and fantastic art design. The viewer can stay busy simply looking around all the corners of the frame -- and was it ever spectacular on a big screen! Dietrich's famous number in a tuxedo was one of several visual high points.

Some of the other standout moments were a Dietrich-Cooper kiss behind a fan and an agitated Dietrich breaking a pearl necklace as she realizes she must know whether Cooper has survived a deployment. They were such simple moments, yet the staging made these shortest of scenes something to really remember. I had a thoroughly good time watching the film from start to finish.

Both movies today were presented in very nice-looking digital projections. I assume SHANGHAI EXPRESS was the digital restoration I first saw in 2016 at the TCM Classic Film Festival.

MOROCCO was directed by Josef von Sternberg; it was filmed by Lee Garmes and the uncredited Lucien Ballard. The running time was 92 minutes.

MOROCCO is available on DVD in Marlene Dietrich: The Glamour Collection, a five-film set which is currently a real steal on Amazon. It's also part of Criterion's box set of Dietrich-von Sternberg films or as a single title in the Universal Vault Collection.


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