LEX BARKER in “MISSION TO MOROCCO” (UK-Spain, 1959)
also starring Julie Reding and Fernando Rey
directed by Carlos Arévalo and Anthony Squire
released on VHS in the USA by Republic Pictures Home Video in the 1990’s
I have always valued a terse, succinct approach to the arts and entertainment. Yes, there is certainly a place for an epic scope and a large canvas, but one must admire efficiency and concision, particularly in popular entertainment. The 60-minute B-crime-or-mystery feature film is one of the greatest expressions of this aesthetic, in my humble opinion. Recently I’ve been watching the wonderful early 60’s UK-made Edgar Wallace mystery feature films, running about 59 minutes and done on 22,000 pound budgets. There is not a wasted detail or line or shot–every piece is calculated to work as part of the whole, and there is no filler. They don’t waste my time, nor do they waste the time and resources of the makers.
I just recently acquired a DVD-R of the 1959 British-Spanish co-production MISSION TO MOROCCO, starring Lex Barker—-which I reviewed on the IMDB in 2004 from a VHS release—-and watching it, while it’s no classic, I appreciated its modest aims and more-than-adequate achievement of those aims. The Brits were masters of lean B-crime/mystery films, and even a production such as this possessed the echo of that film-making skill. MISSION TO MOROCCO is not well-known or well-loved. I’m the only person to have reviewed it on the IMDB, and the other references I’ve seen to it in English describe it as a “dog” and “slow-moving.” I’d challenge the “dog” designation, but it IS a film that takes its time. Honestly, I think that the producers felt that the Spanish and Moroccan locations could do a lot to “sell” the film, and having an American action-adventure star such as Lex Barker walk through the film could somehow ‘close the sale’ for the viewer….and also help in European markets where Barker was a big name.
As this was released on VHS by Republic Pictures Home Video, I always assumed it was a very-late Republic theatrical release–after all, in 1958 and 59, Republic was issuing mostly foreign pick-ups, reissues of their older product (often re-titled), and independent productions, some of which fell somewhat short of Republic’s usually reliable professional production standards. However, in researching the film online, I can see no evidence of a US theatrical release, so Republic’s owning the rights to this film in the US must have come from including it in an NTA television package at one time. According to Wikipedia, by the late 1980’s ” NTA had bought the name and trademarks of the old Republic studio and renamed itself Republic Pictures, and the home video arm was renamed to Republic Pictures Home Video.” And serial fans will be forever in debt to that company for their fine 2-VHS sets of much of the Republic serial library in beautiful, well-restored editions. Republic Pictures’ choice of features to reissue on VHS was not that logical or predictable. They put out the poor WHEN GANGLAND STRIKES (which was discussed here a few months ago), and they put out MISSION TO MOROCCO. It’s nice to know the company felt that Lex Barker had enough US fans to justify such a release!
Let me share my 2004 IMDB review of the film:
This British/Spanish co-production stars Lex Barker as an oil company executive working out of Spain who learns that one of his colleagues on a secret mission in Morocco is killed. The films starts off well with a number of children playing on the beach finding the body, and Barker and his fiancée Juli Reding (perhaps best known from TORMENTED). There is some nice location photography (in crisp B&W), and the minimal sets should not bother any low-budget film fan. The overall feel of the film is not unlike the “international co-production” crime-spy TV shows of the 1950s or the typical 1950s b&w Euro crime/mystery film with an American star such as George Raft or Lloyd Bridges or Cameron Mitchell. Barker is required to look handsome, act concerned, and win a few fights, all of which he does well, while Juli Reding (with her wide-set eyes, she’s a very distinctive looking lady, vaguely reminiscent of Jayne Mansfield) does not get to show the dramatic range here that she did in TORMENTED–she’s mostly playing the traditional “girlfriend of hero” role. The great Fernando Rey is also featured in a large supporting role. While this is no all-time classic, it certainly does not deserve the two-star rating it currently has here on the IMDb. The script does not contain any overly clever plot twists, but it’s a competent piece of work that should hold its own alongside any of the TV episodes or Euro genres mentioned above. Barker is always worth watching to his fans, and he is well-presented here, and Ms. Reding’s filmography is so small that any fan of TORMENTED will want to see her here. This was issued in the US in the early 90s on a Republic Pictures Video VHS tape that is widely available used and as a cutout for a few bucks. I paid $2 for mine, and it was a pleasant way to spend 85 minutes after a long week. And next to the crap at the local multiplex or reality-TV shows, Mission in Morocco looks pretty darn good!
It’s interesting that the copyright to the film is held by the Spanish co-production partner, HISPAMER FILMS, a name well-known to and well-loved by the peplum and Eurowestern fan—-that would lead me to believe that Spain was the dominant partner in the production, and indeed, it plays more like a Spanish film than a British crime film. It’s a film that does not shout, but instead takes its time and uses the Spanish and Moroccan exteriors and cultural details well.
Lex Barker’s last American feature film was made in 1957, the 1958 FEMALE FIENDS was made in Britain, and by the end of 1958, he was working exclusively in European films, which he would continue to do, with just minor exceptions, until his passing in 1973. He’d already made a few films in Italy-Spain before making MISSION IN MOROCCO, and by 1968 he’s starred in some 40 (!!!) films in Europe.
As a footnote, in 1954, soon after leaving the role of Tarzan after the film TARZAN AND THE SHE-DEVIL (which I reviewed at BTC a while back), he made two films back-to-back in Italy, one of which (BLACK DEVILS OF KALI) was awkwardly dubbed and padded with clunky narration, and then released by REPUBLIC PICTURES in 1955 as MYSTERY OF THE BLACK JUNGLE (the “Jungle” reference no doubt cashing in on his fame as Tarzan)….and released in black and white (it had been shot in color). I’d love to see the Italian originals of the two films he made in Italy in 1954, but I’ve never seen English-subtitled versions available. The American release, MYSTERY OF THE BLACK JUNGLE, is available, but alas I cannot recommend it.
MISSION TO MOROCCO would have been perfect entertainment at 3 a.m. on a small-market UHF station back in the 1970’s. One night they could show an Eddie Constantine film, the next night they could show MISSION TO MOROCCO. As Joe Bob Briggs says, “check it out”….if you’re so inclined!
A Lex Barker film that actually WAS released theatrically by Republic Pictures