Desire (1936)

“She can start a revolution with me anytime.”

In Desire jewel thief Countess Madeleine de Beaupre (Marlene Dietrich) pulls off the ingenious theft of an extremely valuable pearl necklace. Then she’s off to meet her fellow thieves in Madrid when she bumps into hardworking American engineer Tom Bradley (Gary Cooper). He’s on holiday for the first time in years, and he’s determined to really enjoy himself.

The film is interesting to begin with, and although Cooper plays the engineer with a great deal of charm, and Dietrich–as always–is fun to watch–the romance between these two characters lacked any sparks. It’s obvious that the film is trying to capitalize on the contrast between Dietrich’s exotic European presence and Cooper’s good-old-fashioned lack of sophistication. While this works, it works almost too well, and I couldn’t help wincing at the idea that the naive Bradley intends to unleash the sultry countess on the streets of his unsuspecting native city, Detroit. The prospect of such likelihood becomes a little absurd. Consequently, the film, while containing some marvelous dialogue, requires a whopping dollop of suspension of disbelief. The dynamic between the couple was at its best when Cooper spars with Dietrich’s fellow thieves and the conversation is laced with innuendo. Dietrich and Cooper fans will want to see the film–but it lacks the greatness of Dietrich’s Josef von Sternberg films. Directed by Frank Borzage.

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