Saturday, May 11, 2013

"The Desert Song" (1953)

In 1953 Warner Brothers released the third version of the operetta, The Desert Song. In fact, as you can see in the poster below, it was marketed as "The New Desert Song." This film was released in three-color Technicolor and in 1.37:1, not widescreen. The first widescreen film, The Robe was released by Twentieth-Century Fox in CinemaScope that same year. The first version of The Desert Song in 1929 was the first Warner Brothers film released in color, with the two color Technicolor process.

The movie is based on a hit stage musical that featured Oscar Hammerstein's book and lyrics. The basic plot is that the French are attempting to build a railroad line through the desert in Morocco but they are under constant threat by some Arab rebels. The leader of the rebels is actually a Latin tutor hired by the French general who is sent to protect the railroad from the rebels to watch keep a femme fatale named Margot from flirting with the army. The big surprise at the end is when she discovers that the rebel leader, who she admires, is the same Latin tutor.  Songs that do not do much to move the plot along are thrown in from time to time.

The storyline trots along but it is hard to identify with any of the characters in the movie. It fails to create any sense of enthusiasm in the audience for the lead characters. The comic relief in the film comes mostly from Dick Wesson's character, an American journalist always trying to dig up dirt. He's honestly the only character I can actually remember from this movie.  The film looks nice though.

I was able to screen this film during the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival. Robert Osborne had been hyping this film from the start of the festival. He was even there to introduce it. He informed us all that it was the first time this film had been screened in over 50 years in a theater.  Two of my colleagues and I sat in anticipation to film. Throughout the film, I can assure you that I was not the only person snickering and rolling their eyes at the movie. We all shared equal disappointment from the film after the credits rolled. We all wondered exactly why WB thought they needed to remake this film? Third times the charm? Because it wasn't.

After writing my thoughts, I dug up the original New York Times review of the movie. You can see that even 54 years ago, my impressions were shared.

The Desert Song FilmPoster.jpeg

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