Gary Cooper and Adolphe Menjou also appear in this film, but who was looking at them? Marlene Dietrich steams up the screen in her first appearance in an American film – her second in a cycle of seven collaborations with director Josef von Sternberg.
Morocco is a lavishly detailed, unashamedly romantic frame-story for Dietrich’s mesmerising musical numbers. In the film’s most heavily publicised scene, Dietrich swaggers through a cabaret wearing a tuxedo and top hat by costume designer Travis Banton, before kissing a female patron. Her playful gender satire catapulted women’s trousers into the fashion mainstream, and shaped queer iconography for generations to come. It also inspired Yves Saint Laurent’s 1966 Le Smoking collection of women’s pantsuits.
Here, Morocco isn’t a real place. It’s a sensual realm of the European imagination where wealthy hedonists mingle with adventure-seekers, and women can escape narrowly defined social and sexual roles. Even today, fashion promises to transport us to this magical space of play and freedom.