Sunday 5 March 2023

Movie Review: Sirocco (1951)

Genre: War Drama
Director: Curtis Bernhardt
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Lee J. Cobb, Märta Torén 
Running Time: 98 minutes

Synopsis: In Damascus of 1925, local rebels are fighting for independence from French colonialists. French General LaSalle (Everett Sloane) accepts advice from his head of intelligence Colonel Feroud (Lee J. Cobb) to try and negotiate a truce. Caught in the middle is shady American businessman Harry Smith (Humphrey Bogart), who is secretly selling weapons to the Syrian rebels. Harry's troubles multiply when he sets his eyes on Feroud's lover Violetta (Märta Torén), who is eager to escape the war and find passage to Cairo.

What Works Well: Produced by Bogart's Santana Productions, Sirocco has clear intentions to mimic Casablanca. Some aspects are reasonably successful: despite the studio-bound sets, director Curtis Bernhardt does create an effective war-torn milieu, with society humming along in dark alleys and behind black curtains as the sounds of battle rage outside. LaSalle is caught in a dilemma between using brute force and offering to negotiate, and Lee J. Cobb adds nuance to the role of a military man tired of killing. The secondary cast is animated by the sweaty presence of Zero Mostel and Nick Dennis.

What Does Not Work As Well: The story belongs more to Cobb's Feroud than Bogart's Smith, and the attempts to force the gunrunner into the spotlight are awkward. Violetta's involvement never gains traction, Märta Torén unable to generate neither heat nor chemistry. The local Syrian rebel leaders barely feature, and the script falls into prominent logic holes.

Conclusion: Serviceable foreign intrigue adventure, but quite a few guns short of a full shipment.

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