The Desert Song


1h 30m 1943
The Desert Song

Film Details

Genre
Musical
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 29, 1943
Premiere Information
World premiere in New York: 23 Dec 1943
Production Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the play The Desert Song , book and lyrics by Lawrence Schwab, Otto Harbach, Oscar Hammerstein II and Frank Mandel, music by Sigmund Romberg (New York, 30 Nov 1926)

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 30m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Synopsis

In Morocco, in 1939, the efforts of Moroccan Caid Yousseff to build a private railroad to Dakar are continually interrupted by attacks by the native Riffs under the leadership of the mysterious El Khobar, who is actually American Paul Hudson, a veteran of the Spanish Civil War. When Johnny Walsh, an American journalist stationed in Morocco, tries to make the attacks public, his efforts are blocked by the French censor. Some time later, a raid led by El Khobar frees the Riffs who have been forced to work in the desert building the railroad, and destroys part of the railroad. El Khobar's men also capture Tarbouch, a native who has helped enslave the Riffs. Later, Paul, who is also a café piano player, informs French singer Margot that the Riffs oppose Yousseff but not France. The following day, Yousseff meets with Colonel Fontaine, who is his partner in the railroad deal, which is financed by the Nazi government. Yousseff suggests that Fontaine search for El Khobar in the native cafés where his spies are thought to congregate, taking Margot along to hide his real purpose. At café Père Fan Fan, Fontaine and Margot encounter Johnny and Paul. As soldiers approach the café, natives sing out a musical warning and Paul then plays the notes on the piano. By the time the soldiers arrive at the café, all the Arabs have disappeared. Later Paul learns that some captured Riffs are being tortured and plans their rescue. Because Margot is friendly with Fontaine, Paul invites her to the desert, where he plans to question her, and she discovers that he is El Khobar. After spending the day with the Riffs, Margot is converted to the cause and agrees to help Paul, with whom she has fallen in love. As El Khobar, Paul delivers a message to Yousseff, offering to trade Tarbouch for the captured Riffs. Fontaine, who is with Yousseff, chases the rebel, but when he reaches Père Fan Fan, he finds only Paul, playing the piano. Made suspicious by the dust on Paul's boots, Fontaine questions him closely, but Paul has a ready explanation. Later, Johnny discovers that an ambush is planned and tells Margot, who informs Johnny as to Paul's secret identity and explains that he is meeting with Riff chieftains to draft a peace plan that he will take directly to Paris. Johnny hurries into the desert to warn Paul, but the attack has already started when he arrives, and so he instead gives Paul his horse so that he can escape. Johnny is then captured by the French, who think that he is El Khobar. That night Fontaine tells Margot that he has captured El Khobar and proposes to her. In rejecting his proposal, Margot accidentally reveals the rebel's real identity. When Paul comes to say goodbye, Fontaine plans to arrest him until he learns that the railroad is being built with German, not French money. Fontaine then joins Paul in capturing Yousseff and promises that the Riffs will be treated fairly. Paul then rejoins his men in hiding where, over the radio, they hear that France has taken over the railroad and all rights have been granted to the Riffs. Reunited with Paul, Margot joins the celebration.

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Movie Clip

Hosted Intro

Film Details

Genre
Musical
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 29, 1943
Premiere Information
World premiere in New York: 23 Dec 1943
Production Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the play The Desert Song , book and lyrics by Lawrence Schwab, Otto Harbach, Oscar Hammerstein II and Frank Mandel, music by Sigmund Romberg (New York, 30 Nov 1926)

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 30m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Award Nominations

Best Art Direction

1944

Articles

The Desert Song (1943)


An operetta staple since it debuted in 1926, The Desert Song, with its swashbuckling story of a charming Frenchman who is secretly the leader of Moroccan rebels against French colonial rule, has been filmed three times by the Warner Brothers studio. The main attraction, of course, is the gorgeous score by Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein II, and like many operettas, it usually exists out of time, in an exotic location, with a lush score and romantic plot that ties up its story neatly. The first film adaptation was an early talkie made in 1929, billed as the studio's first "all-talking, all-singing" production; and Warners gave the 1953 version, starring Gordon MacRae and Kathryn Grayson a lavish Technicolor production. But the excellent 1943 version, also in color, was little-seen for decades, held up first by wartime restrictions and later by legal issues.

As early as 1938, MGM had been trying to acquire The Desert Song for their own operetta sweethearts, Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. But Warner Brothers held on to the rights, finally deciding to make the film themselves. Shot in mid-1942 after America's entry into World War II and released after more than a year of delays, The Desert Song has something the earlier and later versions do not: relevance. "Never let it be said that Warner Brothers has overlooked a chance to twist some current significance into even the most 'escapist' of its films," wrote New York Times critic Bosley Crowther in the first sentence of his review. "[It] now tells a modern story of Nazis and anti-Nazis at work." The review details a Casablanca-ish scenario about Nazis plotting to build a railroad in North Africa with the cooperation of a French official (Bruce Cabot). The rebels foil the attempt with the help of an American piano player (Dennis Morgan) who is a veteran of the Spanish Civil War. But unlike Casablanca, which was allowed to be forthright about French cooperation with the Nazis, the U.S. government's Office of War Information objected to the script which had the French officer being complicit. Instead, the story has Cabot being duped by the Germans.

French-born director Robert Florey spent nearly a month shooting the desert sequences in New Mexico, plagued by sandstorms and 110-degree heat, but the effort was worth it. The action scenes are surprisingly robust for a musical, and Florey is equally adept with the cafe sequences, even contributing objets d'art from his personal collection to the decor. Warner Brothers contract star Dennis Morgan plays the dashing hero with charm and energy, and gets an opportunity to show off his superb tenor voice. He is well-matched with blond soprano Irene Manning as the cafe singer he loves.

Florey had first arrived in the U.S. in 1921 as a correspondent for a French film journal, after working in the French and Swiss film industries. He directed several experimental shorts before making his way into the studio system as a writer and director, usually on short-term contracts. Among his notable films was the expressionist short, The Life and Death of 9413, a Hollywood Extra (1928). Florey had signed a one-picture deal at Warner Brothers specifically to direct The Desert Song, and the film shows the influence of his adventurous visual sense. Florey's biographer Brian Taves calls The Desert Song "a major artistic and creative triumph for Florey," but also very difficult, because of "management interference, grueling location work," and censorship problems.br>
Ultimately, the studio was happy enough with The Desert Song's box office performance that they offered Florey a long term contract, but it was too late. He had already moved on to other studios. Today, many fans of The Desert Song operetta agree that Florey's version is the best of the three, and echo Times critic Crowther's conclusion: "This brash and gaudy picture is relaxing entertainment and spirited fun, with a great deal of colorful action in odorous cafes and on the burning desert sands."

Director: Robert Florey
Producer: Robert Buckner
Screenplay: Robert Buckner, Robert Florey, based on the play by Oscar Hammerstein II, Otto A. Harbach, Frank Mandel, Laurence Schwab
Cinematography: Bert Glennon
Editor: Frank Magee
Costume Design: Milo Anderson
Art Direction: Charles Novi
Musical Score: Sigmund Romberg, Oscar Hammerstein II, Otto Harbach, Jack Scholl
Principal Cast: Dennis Morgan (Paul Hudson, also known as El Khobar), Irene Manning (Margot), Bruce Cabot (Colonel Fontaine), Lynne Overman (Johnny Walsh), Gene Lockhart (Pere Fanfan), Faye Emerson (Hajy), Victor Francen (Caid Yusseff), Curt Bois (Francois), Jack La Rue (Lieutenant Bertin), Marcel Dalio (Tarboush), Nestor Paiva (Benoit)
90 minutes

by Margarita Landazuri
The Desert Song (1943)

The Desert Song (1943)

An operetta staple since it debuted in 1926, The Desert Song, with its swashbuckling story of a charming Frenchman who is secretly the leader of Moroccan rebels against French colonial rule, has been filmed three times by the Warner Brothers studio. The main attraction, of course, is the gorgeous score by Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein II, and like many operettas, it usually exists out of time, in an exotic location, with a lush score and romantic plot that ties up its story neatly. The first film adaptation was an early talkie made in 1929, billed as the studio's first "all-talking, all-singing" production; and Warners gave the 1953 version, starring Gordon MacRae and Kathryn Grayson a lavish Technicolor production. But the excellent 1943 version, also in color, was little-seen for decades, held up first by wartime restrictions and later by legal issues. As early as 1938, MGM had been trying to acquire The Desert Song for their own operetta sweethearts, Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. But Warner Brothers held on to the rights, finally deciding to make the film themselves. Shot in mid-1942 after America's entry into World War II and released after more than a year of delays, The Desert Song has something the earlier and later versions do not: relevance. "Never let it be said that Warner Brothers has overlooked a chance to twist some current significance into even the most 'escapist' of its films," wrote New York Times critic Bosley Crowther in the first sentence of his review. "[It] now tells a modern story of Nazis and anti-Nazis at work." The review details a Casablanca-ish scenario about Nazis plotting to build a railroad in North Africa with the cooperation of a French official (Bruce Cabot). The rebels foil the attempt with the help of an American piano player (Dennis Morgan) who is a veteran of the Spanish Civil War. But unlike Casablanca, which was allowed to be forthright about French cooperation with the Nazis, the U.S. government's Office of War Information objected to the script which had the French officer being complicit. Instead, the story has Cabot being duped by the Germans. French-born director Robert Florey spent nearly a month shooting the desert sequences in New Mexico, plagued by sandstorms and 110-degree heat, but the effort was worth it. The action scenes are surprisingly robust for a musical, and Florey is equally adept with the cafe sequences, even contributing objets d'art from his personal collection to the decor. Warner Brothers contract star Dennis Morgan plays the dashing hero with charm and energy, and gets an opportunity to show off his superb tenor voice. He is well-matched with blond soprano Irene Manning as the cafe singer he loves. Florey had first arrived in the U.S. in 1921 as a correspondent for a French film journal, after working in the French and Swiss film industries. He directed several experimental shorts before making his way into the studio system as a writer and director, usually on short-term contracts. Among his notable films was the expressionist short, The Life and Death of 9413, a Hollywood Extra (1928). Florey had signed a one-picture deal at Warner Brothers specifically to direct The Desert Song, and the film shows the influence of his adventurous visual sense. Florey's biographer Brian Taves calls The Desert Song "a major artistic and creative triumph for Florey," but also very difficult, because of "management interference, grueling location work," and censorship problems.br> Ultimately, the studio was happy enough with The Desert Song's box office performance that they offered Florey a long term contract, but it was too late. He had already moved on to other studios. Today, many fans of The Desert Song operetta agree that Florey's version is the best of the three, and echo Times critic Crowther's conclusion: "This brash and gaudy picture is relaxing entertainment and spirited fun, with a great deal of colorful action in odorous cafes and on the burning desert sands." Director: Robert Florey Producer: Robert Buckner Screenplay: Robert Buckner, Robert Florey, based on the play by Oscar Hammerstein II, Otto A. Harbach, Frank Mandel, Laurence Schwab Cinematography: Bert Glennon Editor: Frank Magee Costume Design: Milo Anderson Art Direction: Charles Novi Musical Score: Sigmund Romberg, Oscar Hammerstein II, Otto Harbach, Jack Scholl Principal Cast: Dennis Morgan (Paul Hudson, also known as El Khobar), Irene Manning (Margot), Bruce Cabot (Colonel Fontaine), Lynne Overman (Johnny Walsh), Gene Lockhart (Pere Fanfan), Faye Emerson (Hajy), Victor Francen (Caid Yusseff), Curt Bois (Francois), Jack La Rue (Lieutenant Bertin), Marcel Dalio (Tarboush), Nestor Paiva (Benoit) 90 minutes by Margarita Landazuri

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

A notation in SAB indicates that producer Robert Buckner's name was not to appear on the screen as a writer. No one is given script credit on the screen, but CBCS attributes the screenplay to Buckner, while a modern biography of director Robert Florey credits him as co-writer. Actor Lynne Overman, who plays "Johnny Walsh" in the picture, died before the film's release. According to a May 14, 1942 Hollywood Reporter news item, much of the film was shot on location in Arizona and in Gallup, NM. According to a studio memo reprinted in a modern source, the backlot Moroccan street built for the film was later used in the 1943 film Casablanca. Modern sources indicate that the release of the completed film was delayed because of wartime restrictions. The OWI's Bureau of Motion Pictures objected to the film's unsympathetic presentation of the French, as well as to its depiction of French cooperation with the Germans as embodied in the character of "Colonel Fontaine." As a result, Fontaine was portrayed as unaware of the German backing of the railroad. Charles Novi and Jack McConaghy received an Oscar nomination for Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration for a color film.
       The operetta The Desert Song was filmed for the first time in 1929 by Warner Bros. That film was directed by Roy Del Ruth and starred John Boles and Carlotta King (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1920-31; F2.1286). Another version was planned as early as 1935, according to a November 13, 1935 Variety news item. At that time, it was rumored that Warner Bros. would re-cast Carlotta King, who played in the original screen version of the musical, as "Margot." According to an Los Angeles Examiner news item, Warner Bros. also considered using the musical to boost the career of singer James Melton. A November 21, 1938 Hollywood Reporter news item notes that M-G-M was negotiating with Warner Bros. for the rights to the musical as a vehicle for Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. The operetta was also the basis for the 1953 Warner Bros. film The Desert Song starring Gordon MacRae and Kathryn Grayson and directed by Bruce Humberstone. On May 7, 1955, a television version of the production was broadcast over NBC, starring Nelson Eddy and Gale Sherwood and directed by Max Liebman.