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The first of three versions of The Desert Song is this early talkie from Warner Brothers which outside of some desert outdoor shots is essentially a filmed stage play. That is valuable unto itself because it is a filmed record of a hit Broadway operetta of the time.
One of Sigmund Romberg's best musical scores with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein, II and Otto Harbach is attached to one of the silliest of plots. But very popular for the time because the news of the Riff rebellion in Morocco was reported in American media and because Rudolph Valentino had made the Moslem inhabited desert quite the romantic place with The Sheik. As I said in two previous reviews of the other filmed Desert Songs, it's a salute to French colonialism.
The Desert Song finds John Boles as a kind of desert Zorro. The French occupiers know him as Pierre in his Clark Kent clumsy identity. But when he dons the red mask and cape he becomes the Red Shadow, leader of the Riff revolt. Boles to use the English expression has truly 'gone native'.
The fiancé of Captain John Miljan of the Foreign Legion, Carlotta King, is in from Paris and yearning for some real romance. Which Boles in his Red Shadow guise gives her in abundance. As Pierre she can't see him for beans.
In the meantime we have Myrna Loy as the desert siren Azuri who's getting dumped by Miljan, doesn't like it, and is working an agenda all her own.
Providing comic relief are Johnny Arthur and Louise Fazenda. Arthur came across as a kind of Eddie Cantor like milquetoast character who is the society columnist for his American newspaper who somehow was sent to cover the Riff Rebellion and doesn't like it at all. Arthur and Fazenda worked very well together.
Carlotta King did her one and only film with The Desert Song. She left the screen and lived to the ripe old age of 102. There has to be some kind of story there. She was in fine voice with a Jeanette MacDonald like quality. Jeanette incidentally was making her screen debut over at Paramount around the same time in The Love Parade.
Forget the silly plot and concentrate on the wonderful songs of Romberg- Harbach-Hammerstein and you can enjoy The Desert Song.
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