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Outpost in Morocco

Outpost in Morocco(1949)

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Produced independently and distributed by United Artists, Outpost in Morocco (1949) was a later effort in the French Foreign Legion school of adventure movies, an attempt to follow the well-worn path of such previous entries in the genre as Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935) and Beau Geste (1939). The enthusiastic director was Frenchman Robert Florey; a longtime student of French military history, he had been itching for years to make his own statement on the topic. The film benefits greatly from some location shooting in Morocco, but is undercut by story weaknesses and an indifferent performance by George Raft as the nominal hero.

In post-World War I French Morocco, Col. Pascal (John Litel) picks Capt. Paul Gerard (George Raft) for a specialized mission: he is to lead a small division to escort the daughter of the Emir of Bel-Rashad to her home and investigate if the Emir (Eduard Franz) is planning an attack on a nearby French outpost. Gerard's manservant Bamboule (Ern Verebes) searches local nightclubs for his boss, and eventually the ladies' man is discovered dancing the tango with a beautiful girl (the always interesting Marie Windsor). When Gerard leads the convoy the next day, he finds out that the beautiful girl is Cara, the Emir's daughter, now irritated with the Legionnaire. During their long journey, though, Cara falls in love with Gerard. At the palace, Gerard discovers that the Emir is stockpiling sophisticated weapons and plans to attack the local garrison. Cara temporarily turns against Gerard when she realizes that he has infiltrated the palace for purposes of military reconnaissance rather than his love for her.

Outpost in Morocco was produced by Sam Bischoff and Joseph N. Ermolieff, who formed a one-time company called "Moroccan Pictures" for the purpose. Prior to principal photography, second-unit director Richard Rosson traveled to Morocco to shoot an unusual amount of location footage; not just background or establishing shots, but script-specific action and scene-specific material that would later be combined with the studio work. The producers had the full cooperation of the French government and access to hundreds of Legionnaires at Fort Tinihir (many of whom, incidentally, were former German soldiers who had denounced their homeland at the end of World War II and joined the Legion). In Hollywood, Florey directed the bulk of the film on soundstages during August and September of 1948, in a thirty-six day shooting schedule.

Veteran moviemaker Robert Florey had directed two previous films dealing with present-day French colonialism, The Desert Song (1943) and Rogues' Regiment (1948). As a hobby, he had made a study of military history and even collected artifacts of the French Empire. (Several of the items seen on the walls of Col. Pascal are from Florey's collection; he contributed to the set decoration of several previous films as well). As Brian Taves writes in Robert Florey, The French Expressionist, "because [Outpost in Morocco] was a period story of the type he had so long wanted to direct, it may have aroused the French patriot in him. He did not regret its lack of concern with the contemporary issues that had permeated The Desert Song and Rogues' Regiment. Denunciations of colonialism were saved for films set during the modern era of World war II and its aftermath, rather than imposing current morality on the past. However, Florey moderated considerably the ideology typical of the adventure genre, displaying an awareness that the values it embodied were becoming outmoded."

George Raft was in the midst of a career slide in the late 1940s; films such as Nocturne (1946) and Christmas Eve (1947) are more highly regarded now than at the time of their release, when they were failures at the box office. Roles in other independent productions such as Intrigue (1947), Race Street (1948), and Red Light (1949) also did nothing for Raft's reputation. In The George Raft File: The Unauthorized Biography, James Robert Parish wrote, "Outpost in Morocco pretty much finished what was left of Raft's Hollywood career. The combination of his hot private life and his cold films turned the public against him. In 1950 fifty-five year old Raft did not have one film in release. He had worked steadily in pictures since late 1930 and now the roller coaster ride seemed to be coming to an end."

Taves summarized Outpost in Morocco by calling it "...neither memorable or distinctive. Many of the plot elements lack originality, and the script, while maintaining interest, is marred by some unlikely incidents, lapses in causality, and several underdeveloped supporting characters." Taves goes on to praise the intercutting of location footage with studio material, saying that "owing to the authentic desert locations used as background and the impressive long shots, Outpost in Morocco acquires a vastness in scope, almost an epic dimension." He credits Florey and cameraman Lucien Andriot with keeping the "differences minimized," and yet there are a few scenes in which Raft, Windsor, and other actors (and horses), all studio-bound, are awkwardly placed in front of huge rear projection screens. In these moments the process is laid bare since the rear-screen footage is soft and grainy compared to the foreground actors. Taves does note the film's story weaknesses, writing that the key romantic pairing is "...a less than credible match, due to the dialogue and situations they were given." Parish also blames the script for the film's failings, writing that it "...provided Raft with little scope in which to depict his Captain Paul Gerard... Much more convincing was Akim Tamiroff as Raft's subordinate officer, who is seasoned in the way of legionnaire life. Windsor did not have much luck in coping with her stale assignment as an Eastern princess, hamstrung by a particularly ridiculous scene in which she is shown charging the fort with the Arab troops in a vain attempt to make her father stop fighting."

Notices for Outpost in Morocco in 1949 were even more harsh. For example, the critic for Variety wrote that the film "has little originality and less credibility," adding that it was "...chiefly handicapped by [a] slipshod screenplay alternating between awkward and corny dialog." The critic also makes note of the "hokey tragic climax." In the New York Times, Bosley Crowther wrote, "If some first-class Moroccan scenery were all it took to make a first-class Foreign Legion picture which is what most films set in Morocco aim to be then... Outpost in Morocco would be a first-class Foreign Legion film. For it certainly has got the scenery great dry mountains and sun-baked, sandy wastes, deep ravines and rocky gorges and lonely mud forts set against the vaulted sky. ...But the indoor scenes and the story aren't likely to fool anyone; they're unmistakably phony and strictly from Hollywood." Crowther had particularly acidic words for Raft, because "after all, dash and dazzle are what it takes to make a really exciting thriller out of such romantic stuff, and those are the things which George Raft as the hero most plainly hasn't got. Mr. Raft plays his wild adventures as though he had all day and speaks his lines with the effort of a 6-year-old reading from a book."

Producer: Joseph N. Ermolieff
Director: Robert Florey
Screenplay: Paul de Sainte Colombe, Charles Grayson (writer); Frances Kavanaugh (script revision [uncredited]); Joseph N. Ermolieff (story)
Cinematography: Lucien Andriot
Art Direction: Arthur Lonergan
Music: Michel Michelet
Film Editing: George M. Arthur
Cast: George Raft (Capt. Paul Gerard), Marie Windsor (Cara), Akim Tamiroff (Lt. Glysko), John Litel (Col. Pascal), Ern Verebes (Bamboule), Eduard Franz (Emir).

By John M. Miller

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