Madeleine in slinky dress

1936’s Desire is the sort of film Hollywood has always excelled at. A bit of this, that and the other – some fun, some jeopardy, some romance – parcelled up beautifully and sold by attractive people who are looking their best. Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper in this case. The best bit actually comes at the outset, when Dietrich is playing two men off against each other by telling each man she’s married to the other. On one side a jeweller (Ernest Cossart), from whom she’s trying to steal a priceless string of pearls. On the other a shrink (Alan Mowbray), who is apparently supposed to be buying the pearls though he knows … Read more


Amy prepares to go on stage

Josef von Sternberg was the sort of man who loved it when a plan came together, and in 1930’s Morocco his master strategy paid off. The plan: having found himself shipped to Berlin by Paramount after a string of Hollywood failures, Von Sternberg decided to find a star there, groom her, and then use her to buy his ticket back to the big time. The star was Marlene Dietrich and even before The Blue Angel, Von Sternberg and Dietrich’s first film together, had been released in the USA, he was back in America using it to tout for business. Summoned by telegram, Dietrich followed him and by the time she arrived Morocco was … Read more

Design for Living

George and Tom and Gilda

One of those pre-Code 1930s comedies that comes wrapped in an aura, Design for Living can’t live up to the sell. It’s not funny, though there is the odd smirk, nor perceptive, unless a comedy about the fickleness of women is what you’re after The aura comes virtue of the boys in the backroom. Noel Coward wrote the original play, then Ben Hecht came in and threw most of that away while working on his screen adaptation, in the process turning Coward’s urbane posh gents into a couple of impetuous workaday types – the Time Out London review called it a “tea cups to beer glasses” transformation, and that’s a neatly pithy way … Read more