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Desert Nights (1929)

Passed  -  Adventure | Drama | Romance  -  9 March 1929 (USA)
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Ratings: 8.3/10 from 891 users  
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A con man with his beautiful accomplice and a hostage steals a half million dollars worth of diamonds but finds they're all lost in the desert without water.



(story), (story), 5 more credits »
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Title: Desert Nights (1929)

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Complete credited cast:
Ernest Torrence ...
Lord Stonehill
Lady Diana Stonehill


Hugh Roland is the manager of an African diamond mine, when Lord Stonehill and his daughter Diana arrive to visit the mine. He immediately takes a liking to the lovely Diana, but unfortunately they turn out to be imposters who seize a tray of diamonds and kidnap him while escaping to the desert. Not knowing how to survive in the desert, the two eventually must rely on Hugh to find water and get them out. Written by Robert Tonsing <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Passed | See all certifications »




Release Date:

9 March 1929 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Thirst  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(alternate version)| (Movietone) (musical score and sound effects)

Aspect Ratio:

1.20 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


John Gilbert's last silent film. Later that year he would make his disastrous sound debut in His Glorious Night (1929). See more »


Lady Diana Stonehill: [to Hugh] I'll be your slave. Only give me water - water!
See more »

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User Reviews

John Gilbert going down.
7 March 2006 | by (New York) – See all my reviews

The standard foci in John Gilbert studies have always been the early talkies and the great successes of the twenties. Everything has been directed to the great John Gilbert question: his precipitous fall from grace - did he fall or was he pushed? Seeing Desert Nights raises more questions than it answers. It certainly, to paraphrase Defence Secretary Rumsfeldt, lets us know that there are more secrets that we didn't know that we didn't know.

There is this last John Gilbert silent film for example. Very late. So there was something of a reluctance to commit to sound films for John Gilbert. Was this the reasoning of Louis B. Mayer or John Gilbert? This late silent film could only have added to the general high tension surrounding Gilbert's transition to sound. Was this a deliberate psychological ploy by Mayer who knew both how to make stars and unmake them or were other reasons such as changing tastes, a high pitched voice either in fact or because of a sabotaged sound recording, or the fact that Gilbert was now obliged to vocalize the romantic swill which had previously been expressed with his face and body.

Was Gilbert merely not as clever as he thought he was or were his weaknesses noted by Mayer and used to drive Gilbert off the cliff? Who was the driving force behind making this last silent film might go a good way to sorting these this questions out.

Certainly Gilbert gets to do a lot of the Gilbert schticks that made him a star. He waltzes the same way he did in the Merry Widow, his shoulder and his arm are as stiff as if set in plaster, his body gilding ever so smoothly across the floor, the lady inseparable from his force field. He appeared with his usual super macho devil-may-care persona, hands on hips, bending backwards and laughing loudly signature move, literally laughing at danger.

Still however good or bad he was and no matter how good or bad the film was, it's being released as a silent in 1929 doomed it to obscurity the moment it was first threaded into a projector. In the world where you're only as good as your last picture, a total and absolute flop like this made Gilbert's transition to sound just that much more problematical.

As it is Desert Nights isn't very good, what there is of it. Someone has written that it's copyright length is listed as 80 minutes and the version available on Turner Classic Movies, which I presume is the MGM library copy, is only 63 minutes. In the film as shown there are vast problems in continuity. Transitions from the automobile escape to a safari are strangely incomplete giving it something of the routine illogic which drove French Intellectuals wild for a time in the late 20s and early 30s as surrealism was the desired aesthetic. This of course wasn't a deliberate artistic decision. Later in the film even stranger things happen. Does he escape or doesn't he? Who has the drop on whom? Does he love her, does she love him or are they both playing a game which turns into love? With so many missing scenes, even with a bit more information, who would possibly care? Apparently in one scene John Gilbert gives Ernest Torrence, as the heavy, directions, which cause him to wander along a lush river for days until he arrives back at mine where he is promptly put in chains, but the scene has been dropped though referred to in the denouement. Time passing isn't expressed at all at any point in this picture. It all seems to just be happening then and now on the screen. Very surrealistic.

Even if it had been complete, even if it had been a talkie, it would have been a bad picture. Maybe something epic could have been wrung out of the desert sequences but this was shot on an intimate yet superficial manner.(Fantastic photography from James Wong Howe). Everything is pretty perfunctory and Gilbert can't pull this one out with his famous charm alone. These were perhaps the last fleeting shots of the old self confident Jack Gilbert, as the utter failure of Desert Nights and the changeover to sound seems to have sapped the Gilbert screen persona and cast him o'er with the pale cast of doubt forever.

So was this film actually released this way, or did it play a week full length and then go out to the nabes cut, perhaps as part of a double bill? Was it cut and dumped or did it fail and then cut and dumped? The Variety review might be the thing to see. So was this a disaster that Gilbert had been talked into or pressured to make or did he do it willingly and even enthusiastically and if he did was it something that Mayer use to his advantage in his plan to destroy Gilbert? Gilbert's next appearance was a cameo as himself in William Haines' A Man's Man, a dangerous title considering Haines was perhaps the most widely known homosexual leading man in the movies.

Gilbert would go on to make his first Talkie in a Romeo and Juliet sequence in The Hollywood Review of 1929 where he delivered the role of Romeo in the balcony scene in something less than dulcet tones but perhaps most damagingly wearing tights and rouged up in early color. Its the conceit of the sequence that Gilbert and Norma Schearer are being directed by Lionel Barrymore.

Barrymore would direct Gilbert in the famous disaster of His Glorious Night (of the famous I love you, I love you, I love you...) which, with Redemption, dug Gilbert a hole from which he could never get out. By this time he was a marked man with everyone referring to him in the past tense and leaving the foot note about his high voice to explain his fall.

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