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Film / Desire (1936)

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Desire is a 1936 film directed by Frank Borzage, starring Gary Cooper and Marlene Dietrich.

Dietrich plays Madeleine, a jewel thief. After executing a clever scam and absconding from Paris with a pearl necklace worth 2.2 million francs, Madeline flees for the border with Spain ahead of the police. Also heading for Spain is Tom (Cooper), an American auto engineer on vacation. A Meet Cute near the border is followed by Madeline slipping the pearls into Tom's coat to avoid being caught with them at customs. After they make it into Spain Madeline steals his car, only to realize that Tom's coat was in his suitcase, which he kept. Tom for his part wants to find the lady who stole his car, and eventually tracks her down to the sea coast resort of San Sebastián. Naturally, romantic sparks fly.

The part of Carlos, Dietrich's partner in crime, was originally supposed to be played by Dietrich's Real Life boyfriend John Gilbert. Unfortunately Gilbert had a heart attack brought on by chronic alcoholism soon before production was supposed to start, and was immediately replaced. Shortly thereafter Gilbert had another heart attack and died.


  • As You Know: The opening where Tom is practicing his speech to his boss rather neatly establishes that Tom is an engineer from the Detroit auto industry who wants a vacation.
  • Breach of Promise of Marriage: Tom says that he grows on people. As an example he cites one girl back home, who didn't like him at first, but he was persistent, and he grew on her, until..."She sued me."
  • Chekhov's Gun: The ridiculous ad on the spare tire of Tom's automobile. Tom later spotting the spare tire on the back of a hay cart lets him know where Madeline crashed the car.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: Naturally, the radio at Madeline's hotel suite plays a broadcast of the hunt for the jewel thieves.
  • Conflict Ball: It's not really clear why Carlos doesn't simply take the pearls himself and get out of town, rather than insisting Madeline dump Tom and come with him.
  • Cool Old Lady: "Aunt" Olga, Madeline's other partner in crime, a cheerful old criminal.
    "I never drank until I went to jail."
  • Exact Words: When the jeweler is selling the pearls to Madeline, he mentions the return policy. She dismisses this, saying "If I take these pearls, you will never see them again." That's because she's going to steal them.
  • Fake Aristocrat: Carlos and Madeline's fake identity, as exiled Russian nobility.
  • Fake-Out Opening: The opening scene has Tom determinedly speaking to his boss, demanding a vacation. The camera eventually moves to show that the boss isn't even there and Tom is just rehearsing his speech.
  • Gilligan Cut: Carlos wants to get Tom out of the hotel so they can ditch him in town and then make their escape. He badgers Tom about going into town with him. Finally he says "I don't want to be polite but I must insist." Cut to Carlos driving into town alone.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: When the cops arrive and Carlos and Madeline think they're done for, he says "Give me a drink, quick!", and hurriedly downs what she pours. It turns out the cops are only there for the minor matter of Tom's stolen car.
  • Meet Cute: First there's the Roadside Wave as Madeline drives past Tom on a muddy road at high speed. Then they reach the border at the same time, where Tom has to disarm the horn on Madeline's car when it gets stuck. Then she dumps the necklace into his pocket at customs in order to avoid getting arrested.
  • No Doubt the Years Have Changed Me: Carlos, pretending to be a prince and Madeline's uncle, greets her with "The years have changed me, but you remain as charming as ever." It's all BS for the benefit of the porter.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: Madeline steals the necklace with a clever con in which she tells the jeweler to bring the necklace to her husband the psychiatrist, while telling the psychiatrist, who is not her husband, that the jeweler is her husband and he is crazy. This sets up a little conversation after Madeline zips out with the necklace in hand in which the jeweler thinks he's concluding a deal and the psychiatrist thinks he's interviewing a disturbed patient. The line "How do you sleep?", delivered by the doctor to the jeweler, is taken entirely the wrong way.
  • Roadside Wave: The first part of the Meet Cute comes when Tom is trying to set up a camera to take a 1930s version of a selfie on a country road, only for Madeline, who is driving for the border as fast as she can, to zoom by and splash him with mud.