Desire is a most unusual and extremely fertile example of artistic cross-pollination between two very different auteurs: Frank Borzage and Ernst Lubitsch. On the surface, they would seem to have little in common. Borzage is the screen’s supreme romantic, pledged to union between impoverished, unsophisticated lovers who merge into one. Lubitsch characters are self-conscious, clever, elegant play-actors who live in their own worlds. His two-shots emphasize the separateness of people; this was the source of his comedy and also his profundity. Desire was produced by Lubitsch, and he was closely involved in its planning stages. It has the plush Paramount look, it’s filled with small, buzzing gags and sexy innuendoes, and it thrives on misunderstanding and mischief. Instead of being all at sea in this unaccustomed environment, Borzage follows the Lubitsch blueprint point by point, hitting all the high notes, yet infusing every scene of this comedy with a sense of seriousness and a longing for ideal love that goes counter to Lubitsch’s underlying despair. The result is a nearly perfect hybrid film, lusciously careful and Lubitsch-like with passionate Borzage feelings underneath. Marlene Dietrich toys with her jewel thief role confidently and actually seems to be enjoying herself, while Gary Cooper offers her some friction as a dopey American career man. When Dietrich sings the Friedrich Hollander/Leo Robin song “Awake In A Dream” to Cooper, her purring, off-key voice envelops us in a world of addictive movie fantasy, presided over by two very different masters locked in a tantalizing creative affair.
- Paramount Pictures
- 99 min
- Frank Borzage
- Edwin Justis Mayer, Waldemar Young, Samuel Hoffenstein
- Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper, John Halliday, William Frawley, Ernest Cossart, Akim Tamiroff, Alan Mowbray
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