Review: Cooper and Dietrich Make 'Desire' Sexy, Adventurous, and Funny

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday August 20, 2021

Review: Cooper and Dietrich Make 'Desire' Sexy, Adventurous, and Funny

After the legendary sizzle of Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper in "Morocco," the duo reteamed for an equally explosive romantic endeavor: The more comedic, but still sexy, "Desire," directed with great panache by Oscar winner Frank Borzage ("7th Heaven," "Bad Girl").

Essentially a heist adventure/love story, "Desire" is elevated to exemplary status by Dietrich and Cooper, with help from a crackerjack screenplay that had way too many cooks (being based on a play as well as an early German film), with input from an uncredited Ernst Lubitsch (who is also rumored to have directed some of the film's scenes while Borzage fulfilled other commitments).

Dietrich portrays con artist "Countess" Madeline, who dupes a renowned Parisian jeweler into giving her an expensive string of pearls. She also involves a famous psychiatrist in her scheme. As she escapes to Spain she is stymied by Gary Cooper, playing uber-American Tom Brady, a good Samaritan on vacation who doesn't appreciate her attitude. At the border, unbeknownst to him, she slips the pearls into his jacket pocket; she must then pretend to "desire" him in order to get the goods back. Pretense leads to true love, but our diva's checkered past catches up to her and she must make a life-altering decision.

Cooper is charming, hilarious, sweet — and that smile is so swoon-worthy. It's one of his best performances. Dietrich is enchanting. She gets to play at mysterious, sultry, seductive and, yes, she sings!

"Desire" is classic cinema not just for the extraordinary Cooper/Dietrich chemistry, those electrifying Dietrich close-ups, or the snappy dialogue, but because it's a film where even the censors and their evil code couldn't ruin the magic created onscreen. Oh, and on a strictly superficial level, Cooper and Dietrich are simply two of the most gorgeous people to ever grace the silver screen.

The cinematography is lush and lovely, but in terms of the Blu-ray transfer it's a terrible disappointment, with vertical streaks running throughout the entire film. This is supposed to be a brand new 2K Master transfer. If this is the best that exists, the print needs further restoration. It's distracting, and a real shame. The sound, however, is fine.

There are two audio commentary tracks that are both worth a listen.

Blu-ray Extras Include:

  • Brand New 2K Master

  • New Audio Commentary by Film Historian Samm Deighan

  • New Audio Commentary by Film Historians David Del Valle and Nathaniel Bell

  • Theatrical Trailer

    "Desire" is available on Blu-ray August 10, 2021.

    Frank J. Avella is a film journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep and a Member of the New York Film Critics Online. Frank is a recipient of the International Writers Residency in Assisi, Italy, a Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, and a NJ State Arts Council Fellowship. His short film, FIG JAM, has shown in Festivals worldwide (figjamfilm.com) and won awards. His screenplays (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW) have also won numerous awards in 16 countries. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. https://filmfreeway.com/FrankAvella https://muckrack.com/fjaklute