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 “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.

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

His position 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, compelling 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 soon she gets romantically involved with him.

Bogart’s trajectory in this picture is similar to that 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 ethically.

Among many shortcomings, the film’s leading lady, Marta Toren, is attractive but can’t act, and 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, “Sirocco” is a weak effort of Bogart’s production company, Santana, to duplicate the success of “Casablanca.”

The year 1951 was one of Bogart’s most productive and creative, with three different films, “The Enforcer,” “Sirocco,” and “The African Queen,” for which Bogart won his first and only Oscar Award.

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 James Bond, a decade later.

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