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SIROCCO

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Humphrey Bogart, Lee J. Cobb, Marta Toren, Everett Sloane, Gerald Mohr, Zero Mostel
Director:  Curtis Bernhardt
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  Trailers, Advertising Gallery, Bogart Collection Preview
Length:  98 Minutes
Release Date:  January 21, 2003

Film **1/2

It seems like for years after the success of Casablanca that every studio in one way or another tried to duplicate it’s formula.  Sirocco certainly feels like an attempt.  It even brought back the right leading man in Humphrey Bogart.  The end result is fairly entertaining, but not quite up to par.  The backdrop boasts the same political turmoil and intrigue, but none of the exoticism, and the characters are shady, but not colorful.

The setting is Damascus, where the presence of the French army has been a thorn in the side of native Syrians.  They have been fighting back, costing both sides many lives.  A French colonel named Feroud (Cobb), wishing to avoid more bloodshed, suggests a proposal for a truce, even offering to go behind enemy lines himself.  His proposal is accepted, but not his sacrifice:  another officer is sent instead and is killed for his effort.

In the meantime, Feroud tries desperately to curtail the illegal arms sales that keep the Syrians supplied, not yet knowing that the man most responsible is Harry Smith (Bogart), who, like Rick in Casablanca, is a disillusioned and non-political American in a war-torn foreign land only out for himself.  There is a romantic angle, too, but unlike before, no love story will redeem the Harry Smith character.

Smith intrigues Violette (Toren), who has been on the arm of Feroud for quite some time now, but is finding the shady, charming gun runner a bit more appealing than the quiet, sullen Feroud.  But the would-be love triangle collapses when Smith is finally found out.  He has to flee for his life from Syria while the walls close in around him.

In the end, Feroud makes him a startling offer.  Though the French army wouldn’t grant him leave to go to the Emir and plead for peace, he knows Harry’s connections can get him there.  Harry agrees in order to save his own neck, but when things go awry for Feroud and with the pressures of the French army against him and his window for escape narrowing, he makes one final attempt to run behind enemy lines, but for a more selfless reason this time.

All of this works to a certain point.  Bogart and Cobb are both terrific film actors and work well together on screen.  The film just lacks a certain electricity.  The scenarios promise intrigue, but we just never feel it as much as we’re supposed to.  The romantic angle is a little bland (Toren is possibly the least interesting of Bogart’s many leading ladies), and too much importance is placed on a conflict that we’re just not into.  In comparison once again to Casablanca, it was not the conflict itself that attracted us, but the mettle of the people caught up in it.  We just don’t get that in Sirocco.  Feroud is good but lacks flavor, and Bogart plays a character almost beyond redemption.  Neither man earns our emotional investment.

Sirocco doesn’t entirely fail, mind you, but it comes up just a little short of an actual success.  The good performances and storyline just don’t seem to gel into a classic the way other films with Bogart or Cobb have.

Video ***

A good offering from Columbia Tri Star, this transfer maintains the integrity of the black and white photography well.  Detail level is quite good, save for a few scenes that deliberately called for a little softness, and the print is in fairly good condition for being 50 years old…only minor specks and spots here and there.  Classic movie buffs should be placated.

Audio **

The mono soundtrack is perfectly presentable, but unspectacular by nature.  Dialogue sounds find, and a couple of explosive action scenes add a tad of dynamic range, nothing more or less.

Features *

There are three trailers (none for Sirocco), plus a vintage advertising gallery and a preview of Columbia Tri Star’s Bogart Collection.

Summary:

Sirocco is one for the Humphrey Bogart fans.  More casual movie goers might be better served with one of Columbia Tri Star’s better Bogart titles, like Dead Reckoning, The Harder They Fall or the excellent The Caine Mutiny.