USA / 1930 / 92 min / English / Drama
Director: Josef von Sternberg
Cast: Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper, Adolphe Menjou
The Skinny: Kiss the Ladies But Stand By Your Man
Plato Score: B
It’s really a quintessential love story: Boy Meets Girl. Girl is a Lounge Singer. Girl Kisses Another Girl. Boy Gets Turned On Even More. Girl Falls for Boy and Chases Him into the Desert. Ya know, the classics.
While the story really is about Amy Jolly (Dietrich) and Tom Brown (Cooper) and their eventual hetero-normativity, the only ‘gay’ moment comes early on when Dietrich dons a suit for her act and unapologetically kisses a woman. Not much, but a whopper for 1930. It was that girl-on-girl kiss that sent tongues a-wagging and gave viewers a window into some alternate sexual universe—one that wasn’t perverted or deprived.
Sure, you can easily file it under ‘cliched gender-performing to grab the guy’s attention,’ but there’s something about Dietrich’s swagger that is undeniable. Morocco is the film that cemented her star in the Hollywood firmament: her striking beauty, her sultry voice and that sexy nonchalance. Add to that her own reported bisexuality throughout her life and that bold, cross-dressing scene means that much more.
Yet while her beauty and icon status is easily without question, her acting skills linger over into Madonna territory. Watching her and Gary Cooper is like reliving a 1930s high school production of Our Town. The film’s saving grace is its solid screenplay and lush directing—Furthman and von Sternberg were just getting into their respective strides.
Dietrich will always epitomize glamour, and her coy, sizzling masculine turn here is worth a gander.