Shiek Yousseff, poses as a friend of the French while secretly plotting to overthrow them. Apposing Yousseff are the Riffs, whose secret leader, The Red Shadow, is Paul Bonnard, a professor... See full summary »
Shiek Yousseff, poses as a friend of the French while secretly plotting to overthrow them. Apposing Yousseff are the Riffs, whose secret leader, The Red Shadow, is Paul Bonnard, a professor who is studying the desert, and whose attacks on the supply trains intended for Yousseff keep the Riff villages in food. Foreign Legion General Birabeau arrives to conduct an investigation, accompanied by his daughter, Margot. Birabeau hires Bonnard to tutor her, and she is attracted to a Legionaire captain, Claud Fontaine. While the general, Bonnard and Fontaine pay a visit to Yousseff, an American newspaper man, Benji Kidd, discovers a secret way in and out of Yousseff's palace, with the aid of Azuri, a dancing girl in love with Bonnard. The latter is forced to resume his role as the Riffs leader, and kidnap Margot until he can convince her of Yousseff's treachery. But Yousseff's men attack the Riff camp and take Margot prisoner. Written by
Les Adams <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The wind-swept sands of North Africa! Screaming Arab terror raids! The Harem Dance of Desire! The embattled Foreign Legion! The sheik's palace stormed! And the glorious music of the new "Desert Song" See more »
The Desert Song and the Cold War: The original refrain for The Riff Song includes the lines: "Ho!/That's the sound that comes to warn you/So!/In the night or early morn, you know/If you're The Red Shadow's foe/The Riffs will strike with a blow/That brings you woe!" In this remake, filmed in the early Fifties at the height of the Cold War and McCarthyism, the "Red Shadow" sounded uncomfortably like the Soviet and Chinese communists, so the lyrics were changed to "If you're El Khobar's foe". When Gordon MacRae re-recorded the songs for the record album featuring Dorothy Kirsten as Margot, the original lyrics were restored. See more »
When Margot Birabeau (Kathryn Grayson) is singing "One Flower in Your Garden" she reaches over to a rose bush and removes a long-stemmed rose with no effort instead of having to cut it free. She then handles the stem without being pricked by the thorns, revealing that the rose is artificial. See more »
I have to say from the outset I'm a sucker for operettas. I like music as long as it has a melody and there's nothing more melodious than an operetta. The Desert Song is filled with wonderful melodies and Gordon MacRae and Kathryn Grayson sing them to perfection in this third film adaption of the Romberg-Harbach-Hammerstein operetta.
The real surprise for most people is that the Riffs are quite real. A hardy fighting group they were led in the teens and twenties of the last century by a romantic hero very much like the Red Shadow(El Khobar)named Abdel-Krim. They are the indigenous folk who inhabit in and around the Atlas mountains of Morocco and what was at that time Spanish Morocco.
During the post World War I years American correspondents reporting from those wars were pretty much on the side of the Riffs who were seeking independence from France and Spain. Spain which was not a combatant in World War I took the brunt of the fighting. And Abdel Krim led them on a merry chase for a decade. The Spanish army was beaten at every turn. A guy named Francisco Franco got his first military combat in the Riff Wars.
Eventually the French entered the war in a big way and Abdel-Krim became a prisoner. He went into exile after release and died in the mid 60s. He was a warrior, Abdel Krim in the tradition of Saladin of the Crusades, not at all like today's terrorists. He never made war on civilians. The guy most responsible for his capture was Marshal Phillippe Petain who led the French army, his most notable activity between both world wars.
No doubt in my mind that Abdel-Krim was the model of our hero. Of course since this is the west doing the story we make the hero a Frenchman named Paul Bonnard who by day is a mild-mannered archaeologist from a French University by day and the fearsome lion of the desert by night. Gordon MacRae even dons glasses in his Paul Bonnard mode, just like Clark Kent.
And the leading lady is Margot, daughter of the French commandant and a typical 1920s flirt. In this version that would be Kathryn Grayson.
But it's the wonderful romantic music that Sigmund Romberg wrote that will make the Desert Song last forever. The main songs, The Desert Song One Alone, the Riff Song and Margot's soliloquy Romance are done in fine style by the leads. I wish more of the score got into this version.
Doing operetta, of necessity a lot of it is tongue in cheek. As villains Raymond Massey and Frank DeKova seem to be having a great old time, hamming it up.
Kathryn Grayson got to do a lot of classic operetta and opera while she was at MGM. Gordon MacRae had a terrific baritone voice and sad to say in his case, he didn't come along in the 1930s or he could have done a lot of the operetta that was being filmed then.
One more thing about Abdel Krim. I can't prove it, but I think he was the model for Rudolph Valentino's The Sheik and we all know how popular that was.
For us operetta fans of all ages.
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