Sirroco (1951): Curtis Reinhardt Directs Bogart in Second-Tier Vehicle, Co-Starring Lee J. Cobb and Zero Mostel

Yet another film which blends the themes and conventions of the Oscar winning Casablanca in an effort to make a commercial Bogart picture, Sirocco is nevertheless a second (or third)-tier work in the star’s impressive output.

Grade: B- (** out of *****)

The screenwriters, A.I. Bezzerides and Hans Jacoby, have loosely adapting Joseph Kessel’s novel “Coup de Grace.”

But they must have studied more extensively the script of Casablanca as almost scene by scene, the romantic triangle, and that film’s locales (including a club-restaurant here called Moulin Rouge) are lifted from the legendary 1943 picture.

Bogart plays Harry Smith, a seemingly casino operator in 1925 Damascus, who actually runs a profitable guns business for the rebel army of the Emir Hassan.

Harry’s position inevitably puts him in the midst of the country’s political turmoil.

Colonel Feroud (Lee J. Cobb) , head of the French Intelligence, sends Lieutenant Collet to Hassan on a peace mission, and rounds up a group of suspects, including Harry, then forcing them to sell their guns to the French.

Harry complies, but the shrewd operator that he is, he gains revenge by successfully courting Feroud’s mistress, Violette (Marta Toren).

Violette wishes to break up with Feroud, but her request for a pass to Cairo is denied by him. Violetta then hopes to use Harry as means of escape to Cairo, but, quite predictably, she gets romantically involved with him.

Bogart’s trajectory in this picture is similar to that of his characters in other quintessential movies.  Initially, Harry Smith is a man who, for tidy profits, runs guns to the Arab insurrectionists attempting to overthrow the French Protectorate. Chastised by French Colonel Feroud for his lack of morals and political convictions, Smith merely sneers in agreement.  However, after being betrayed by the Arabs and roughed up by the French authorities, Harry undergoes a moral crisis and begins to behave more ethically and heroically.

Among many shortcomings, the film’s leading lady, Marta Toren, is an attractive femme but she can’t act, and it does not help that there is no erotic tension between her and Bogart.

You can spot Zero Mostel in a small part, just before he was blacklisted by the Hollywood studios.

All in all, Sirocc” is a weak effort of Bogart’s production company, Santana, to duplicate the success of Casablanca.

The year of 1951 was one of Bogart’s most productive and creative, ones, in which he made three different films, “The Enforcer,” “Sirocco,” and “The African Queen,” for which he won his first and only Best Actor Oscar Oscar Award. (This was his second nomination, after Casablanca)

End Note:

At least three times during the story, Bogart is asked, “What did you say your name was?” To which he replies, “Smith, Harry Smith,” very much in the manner of “Bond, James Bond,” a decade later in the Bond series, which began in 1962 with Dr. No.

Cast

Harry Smith (Humphrey Bogart)

Violette (Marta Toren)

Colonel Feroud (Lee J. Cobb)

General LaSalle (Everett Sloane)

Major Leon (Gerald Mohr)

Balukjian (Zero Mostel)

Credits

A Santana production, released by Columbia

Directed by Curtis Bernhardt

Produced by Robert Lord

Screenplay: A. I. Bezzerides and Hans Jacoby, based on the novel “Coup de Grace” by Joseph Kessel.

Camera: Burnett Guffey

Music: George Antheil

Running time: 98 Minutes