HMWYBS 713: Marlene Dietrich

Isn’t it nice when the universe works out this way? For the latest HMWYBS episode, we were told to choose between Morocco and Blonde Venus for a Dietrich episode. I had Morocco coming up on my schedule for the next installment of my year in review project, and I recently got to see Blue Angel in 35mm to boot, which made a nice segway.

This also marked a mildly special occasion: my 1000th film logged on Letterboxd (not my 1000th movie watched, I added some crappy movies I remembered watching as a child right after). I originally wanted to go with the slightly numerically appropriate Le Million, but when I couldn’t get a copy, I considered going with a special best shot entry instead.
I knew that picking a thousand best shots was a very stupid idea, so ultimately I decided to just go with a standard entry. Besides, with a picture being a thousand words, that in itself is a good way to break the 1000 mark in style.

Onto the film itself, a large portion of Morocco finds Josef von Sternberg in a very weird, experimental mood where he seems to be determined to capture a shit load of beautiful splendor out of a fantasy of Orientalism (the realism in this is located in Powell and Pressburger land), Marlene Dietrich is playing with gender norms and driving everyone crazy, and Gary Cooper is mugging like he thinks he is in a silent comedy where he is the hero (I legitimately think there is a reading there). But it bizarrely holds together in a nonsense sort of way even when the seams look like they are going to burst apart at any second from being buffeted by sand. The opening moments of the picture with the French Foreign Legion are not the most interesting way to start things off, so thank god for that ship, with Dietrich earning that Oscar nomination just by looking so tired and worn out with the attempts of Adolphe Menjou to seduce her, and playing what could be an angry scene indifferently (I cannot comment if she should have won or not since I have yet to see Dressler and Harding).

We get to see her dress up as a man for her famous scene, with a man who is also trying to seduce her jabbering on while she gives no fucks and continues to dress up in her tuxedo. It’s an amazing sequence, but I wanted to stay away from it for my Best Shot pick, even though it probably is the realm of the movie where you can find the genuine choice for the perfectly composed pick. Von Sternberg’s camera work has never looked more modern. You could probably only get away with this kind of thing before the code came along, especially when she kisses that one woman who is nice enough to give her a virginal flower.

Ultimately, the point I cared about was the meeting of the two lovers for the Casablanca type of meeting. Would they stay or would they go together? Considering Amy literally walked through hot sand, another masculine act, for the one she loved, I’m betting on a happy relationship.

morocco_heels_sand
Best Shot

My money is on it being the more casual, open kind than you would experience in many other movies from this time period, by which I mean they will most likely regularly have sex with other people.

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