Morocco (1930, Josef von Sternberg)

Marlene Dietrich sails away from a troubled past, becoming a nightclub singer in Morocco. She takes up with young Legionnaire Gary Cooper (three years before Design for Living, sans his stammery, wooden persona), who has his own problems, having slept with his commanding officer’s wife. Gary gives her up and marches into battle, where his boss (Ullrich Haupt, who’d die in a hunting “accident” in under a year) is killed, while Marlene prepares to marry wealthy Adolphe Menjou (anti-Lincoln conspirator in The Tall Target and anti-communist conspirator in the McCarthy hearings) instead. But she ditches Adolphe at their wedding party, returning to Gary, finally throwing away her pride and independence to follow him sheepishly into the desert.

Sternberg’s and Dietrich’s first American picture, a follow-up to The Blue Angel but beating it into U.S. theaters. Dietrich got an oscar nomination despite delivering her lines phonetically. She was beaten by Marie Dressler, with Cimarron, Norman Taurog and Tabu winning out for Morocco’s other nominations. It’s not my favorite Sternberg movie, but Dietrich’s obsessive performance towards the end is among her best. Sternberg loves his tragedies: nobody gets out of this one easily, and Dietrich’s final humiliation reminds of the Emil Jannings pictures that preceded. Controversial at the time: Dietrich wears a tux and kisses a woman. “Battling” Butler was sixth-billed, but I didn’t recognize him.

Film Quarterly in 1948: “The story itself was exceedingly simple, romantic .. However, it was not von Sternberg’s intention to produce a film of reflected reality, but rather to evoke cinematically an exotic locale peopled with extraordinary characters. .. [the] absence of background music gave the film a sharp, immediate quality seldom found in films today, generally burdened, as they are, with a lush musical score.”

Design For Living (1933, Ernst Lubitsch)

An explosion of big names: Lubitsch (just off Trouble In Paradise) and Ben Hecht (between Scarface and Twentieth Century) adapting playwright Noel Coward, starring a young Gary Cooper, the great Miriam Hopkins, and Fredric March (The Best Years of Our Lives). Not actually a pre-code movie, but I guess the code wasn’t too strict in its early days, because it certainly plays like one. So it’s a saucy, delightfully-written love-triangle movie – and I enjoyed it but didn’t love it, trying to remember the whole time where I read that quote saying the art of cinema died when sound was invented and movies became stagey dramas featuring actors standing around talking to each other.

Playwright March and painter George awaken in their train car to find beautiful advertising designer Miriam, who decides she likes them both and comes to live with them (all these aspiring American artists in Paris reminds one of An American In Paris). The arrangement stays semi-platonic until March gets a play produced and moves away, so now Miriam is with Gary. Then she ends up with March somehow, I forget, but at some point she leaves them both for dreary E. Everett Horton, then ends up in her March and Cooper threesome again at the end. It’s really a four-person movie – fifth-billed is Preston Sturges regular Franklin Pangborn, who only has a few lines as March’s producer.

Man of the West (1958, Anthony Mann)

I watched this and The Naked Spur building up to Emory’s 35mm screening of Mann’s T-Men, which I then missed. Oh well. These were excellent, so I’ll have to catch up with T-Men and the others eventually.

A perhaps less-wooden-than-usual Gary Cooper gets a train ticket, is asked his name and destination by two different people and gives them different answers. So we know something is up (turns out he’s a still-wanted ex-badman). But Gary has reformed, is now the inordinately earnest Gary we all know and love, so he’s not lying to talky card-shark Arthur O’Connell when he says he’s headed to Fort Worth with cash raised by an entire town to hire a schoolteacher. Arthur introduces him to saloon singer Julie London, says she’d make a fine teacher, but then the train is robbed, Gary’s money is stolen, and Gary, Julie and Arthur find themselves on foot.

Julie and Arthur in happier times:

Fortunately, this all took place a short walk away from Gary’s old hideout, where his half-crazy uncle Lee Cobb (baddie of Thieves’ Highway) still reigns over a crude bunch of dangerous dimwits, including Gary’s real asshole cousin Jack Lord. Gary is treated as a prisoner/possible-accomplice, Julie as a sex slave, and Arthur is finally just shot (so is Jack Lord).

Cooper, trapped by Lord (left) and Dano:

Gary talks his way into helping with a bank heist, but mute Royal Dano (the Kid’s henchman in Johnny Guitar, later Gramps in House II) comes along and gets himself killed – so now Gary’s got to pick off the rest of the gang as they come for him (that’d be John Dehner, who played Pat Garrett to Paul Newman’s Kid the same year, and Robert Wilke, the foreman in Days of Heaven) before facing off against his uncle Cobb, who I’m surprised was able to leave the house and ride into town.

Cooper vs. Cobb:

Gary’s got his money back, and rides off with Julie London. But besides the money and the schoolteacher plan, Gary was also not lying about having a wife and kids back home. So they can’t be together, but Julie says she’s happy with the unrequited thing, and they get their unique doomed-romance version of the ride-into-sunset.

J. Rosenbaum:

Man of the West is shot in CinemaScope, yet it’s initially hampered by the shallow dramatic space associated with television. This effect is made worse by the casting, which pairs the stagiest of stage actors (Cobb) with the most cinematic of movie actors (Cooper). But Mann is canny enough to turn these limitations to his advantage whenever he can, offering sly notations about Link’s physical discomfort on the train and using a long, tense scene inside the farmhouse to create claustrophobia before sending the characters outdoors for virtually the remainder of the picture. Once again, the hero is a dialectical contradiction, both regressing toward an unbearable past and making an anguished effort to break free from it — the struggle ultimately engendering hatred, violence, pain, and humiliation, and revealing boundless evil.

Royal Dano vs. the ghost town:

Buy from Amazon:
Man of the West DVD

Good Sam (1948, Leo McCarey)

This week Katy was envying cable TV for its Christmas movies and Leo McCarey marathons, so I grabbed us a Leo McCarey Christmas movie – his follow-up to The Bells of St. Mary’s, which we started watching and are having trouble finishing.

Good Gary holds the bus while deciding if he should see The Fugitive:

Good Gary Cooper (the year before he woodenly appeared in The Fountainhead) is married to Less Good Ann Sheridan (star of I Was a Male War Bride). She’s hoping to save for a house (they live in a rental), but Sam lends all their money to deadbeat friends, lends the car to a nearsighted neighbor (Clinton Sundberg), offers a bedroom to Ann’s post-traumatic brother, tries to save a suicidal coworker (Joan Lorring of The Verdict and The Big Night), makes friends with an insufferable mechanic (Matt Moore), pisses off his boss (Edmund Lowe) and gives an ex-neighbor (Todd Karns) the entire family savings to open a gas station.

Costumed Gary and Ann with grinning gas-station couple, and Ann’s brother at far right:

Cooper is a department-store salesman with a non-working wife and three kids – that he could afford a dream house is either movie magic or one of those mysterious 1940′s things. Plus, have I mentioned the family employs a maid/cook (Louise Beavers of Holiday Inn)?

Ann with Louise Beavers and the mechanic:

Things work out: the brother and the suicidal coworker fall for each other and move out, the mechanic’s wife is a realtor who finds their dream house, and the ex-neighbor sells his successful gas station and pays back Sam with interest. Nothing good comes of the nearsighted neighbor, I’m afraid. There’s some last-minute suspense when Sam is robbed of company charity funds and the house deal nearly falls through, but a banker decides to do the right thing (heh), thus happy ending.

Good Gary and Less Good Ann, insulting the neighbors for Christmas:

Cute movie, but more complex it might have been. For instance, it opens with a minister (Ray Collins: James Gettys in Citizen Kane) preaching selflessness and helping thy neighbor, but Ann comes to him later asking if he could convince Sam to perhaps be more selfish, or at least to think of his family’s comfort before helping strangers. Also, a regular occurrence is either Sam or Ann loudly insulting one of the people Sam has helped while the subject of their rage lurks awkwardly nearby.

Desire (1936, Frank Borzage)

Sharp looking romantic comedy. Dull engineer Gary Cooper (this opened one day before his Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, according to IMDB) meets glamorous jewel thief Marlene Dietrich. I’d only seen Dietrich’s later films – Rancho Notorious, Touch of Evil and the documentary Marlene – great to see her in her prime. Watched with Katy who liked the movie except for its bland title.

First non-silent Borzage movie I’ve seen. He had assistance from Lubitsch, but Borzage doesn’t seem to have taken to sound as readily as Lubitsch did. The dialogue scenes are very straightforward, airy with no background noise or music. The editing and camerawork is fine, but it seems like it’s lacking something, some energy. Maybe it’s Gary Cooper’s fault.

Cooper is an auto engineer, kicks off the movie with a bang by asking his boss (William Frawley, in both versions of The Lemon Drop Kid) for vacation time, then discussing marketing slogans. Good transition to Dietrich’s character, then we spend what feels like a half hour on her heist, which involves pitting a famous jeweler (Ernest Cossart of a couple Lubitsch movies) and a famous psychiatrist (Alan Mowbray, played a dullard in My Man Godfrey the same year) against each other then slipping away with a two million dollar pearl necklace. She meets up with Cooper again, slips the necklace into his pocket to evade customs, then steals his car, accidentally leaving him with the loot.

How Gary Cooper sees himself:

Things heat up when her partners in crime show up, Carlos (John Halliday, Hepburn’s dad in The Philadelphia Story) and Aunt Olga (Zeffie Tilbury, one of the few times she didn’t play a grandmother). But there’s never a sense of danger, even when Olga mentions her time in prison and Carlos pulls a gun, because we know that Dietrich can outsmart them both. And since she’s unaccountably fallen for Cooper to the point that she’s willing to throw away her riches and become a Detroit housewife with a criminal record, that’s just what happens. Actually I think Cooper beats up Carlos, but same difference.

Jeweler vs. Psychiatrist:

H. Dumont:

The film may be divided into two parts: the first funny, cynical, and airy, extremely ‘Lubitsch-like;’ the second tenderer, more cheerful, almost a little serious, unmistakable carrying Borzage’s mark. On one side style and irreverence, on the other, playful acting and delicacy.

G. Kenny:

What Borzage finally pulls out from his hat is not a repudiation of the Lubitsch ethos, and its devil-may-care quasi-amorality, but, arguably, a transcendence of it. In other words, it isn’t so much that Tom makes an “honest woman” out of Madeleine as he enables her to realize the good within herself.

Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (1938, Ernst Lubitsch)

“The class of people who comes here seems to get worse every year… and this year we seem to have next year’s crowd already.” Lubitsch movies always have such great dialogue, but he didn’t write ‘em and English wasn’t his first language, so why is it?

It was a bad week for staying awake all the way through movies. Shout out to Gold Diggers of 1933 (I hardly remember anything) and Ninotchka (some awful Russian spies who reminded me of the encyclopedaeists in Ball of Fire were cashing in when I checked out), both of which Katy finished after I’d fallen asleep, and Hollywood Canteen which she didn’t feel like finishing after it got repetitive (army man and buddies are fawned over by actors, including huge star Joan Leslie (who? the girl from Yankee Doodle Dandy?)). I liked this one the most, at least its first half, so I came back the next day to watch the ending.

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Opens with a racy scene about sleeping in and out of pajamas. Bank owner, cheapskate and stickler for everything Gary Cooper meets Claudette Colbert whose father the marquis is trying to hold onto his status despite being flat broke. CC falls for Gary and they’re to be married when he confesses he’s had seven ex-wives. Angry as hell, she signs a lucrative pre-nup agreement, marries Gary then spends his money while trying her best to provoke a divorce. Hilarity ensues.

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Gary Cooper’s gruff phonetic pronunciation of French words adds to the humor. He’s actually not bad as a comic actor. Apparently a remake of a Gloria Swanson silent film. That’s David Niven on the beach above as Colbert’s friend (and a bank employee) whom Colbert sets up as a fall guy in her divorce plot. And the great E. Everett Horton as the marquis. Great looking movie with a perfect cast.

Ball of Fire (1941, Howard Hawks)

Felt slightly long and slow and full of old men for a Hawks movie. Gary Cooper is a hunky young encyclopedia writer locked in a house with his coworkers (including “Cuddles” Sakall). Barbara Stanwyck is the ball of fire who hides out with them on the pretense of helping with an entry on slang, hiding out from her gangster boyfriend (young Dana Andrews, star of one of my least-favorite Fritz Lang movies).

Mostly fun to watch for the language. Written by Billy Wilder and Lubitsch vet/future Sunset Blvd. collaborator Charles Brackett. Same cinematographer as Citizen Kane, the same year. Remade in ’48 with Danny Kaye in the Gary Cooper part, Virginia Mayo as Barbara Stanwyck and Louis Armstrong as Cuddles Sakall.

The internet likes to say the encyclopedaeists were inspired by Snow White’s seven dwarfs, and so here’s me on the internet faithfully repeating it.