The Desert Song (1944)

90 mins | Musical | 29 January 1944

Director:

Robert Florey

Writer:

Robert Buckner

Producer:

Robert Buckner

Cinematographer:

Bert Glennon

Editor:

Frank Magee

Production Designer:

Charles Rovi

Production Company:

Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
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HISTORY

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 14 May 1942 HR 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 (see above). 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 entry). Another version was planned as early as 1935, according to a 13 Nov 1935 Var news item. At that time, it was rumored that Warner Bros. would re-cast Carlotta King, who ... More Less

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 14 May 1942 HR 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 (see above). 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 entry). Another version was planned as early as 1935, according to a 13 Nov 1935 Var 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 LAEx news item, Warner Bros. also considered using the musical to boost the career of singer James Melton. A 21 Nov 1938 HR 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 (see entry). On 7 May 1955, a television version of the production was broadcast over NBC, starring Nelson Eddy and Gale Sherwood and directed by Max Liebman. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
25 Dec 1943.
---
Daily Variety
15 Dec 43
p. 3.
Film Daily
15 Dec 43
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Nov 1938.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 May 42
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Jun 42
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Jun 42
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Aug 42
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Nov 43
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Dec 43
p. 3.
Los Angeles Examiner
26 May 1936.
---
Motion Picture Herald
18 Dec 1943.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
29 Aug 1943.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
18 Dec 43
p. 1673.
New York Times
18 Dec 43
p. 10.
Variety
13 Nov 1935.
---
Variety
15 Dec 43
p. 8.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Warner Bros.--First National Picture
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dial dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Orch arr
SOUND
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff dir
DANCE
Dance numbers staged and dir by
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
PRODUCTION MISC
Tech adv
COLOR PERSONNEL
Technicolor col dir
Assoc Technicolor col dir
SOURCES
LITERARY
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)
SONGS
"The Riff Song," "One Alone," "The Desert Song," "Romance," words by Otto Harbach and Oscar Hammerstein II, music by Sigmund Romberg
"Fifi's Song," words and music by Jack Scholl and Sigmund Romberg
"Gay Parisienne," words and music by Jack Scholl and Serge Walter
+
SONGS
"The Riff Song," "One Alone," "The Desert Song," "Romance," words by Otto Harbach and Oscar Hammerstein II, music by Sigmund Romberg
"Fifi's Song," words and music by Jack Scholl and Sigmund Romberg
"Gay Parisienne," words and music by Jack Scholl and Serge Walter
"Long Live the Night," words and music by Jack Scholl, Mario Silva and Sigmund Romberg
"French Military Marching Song," words and music by Sigmund Romberg.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
29 January 1944
Premiere Information:
World premiere in New York: 23 December 1943
Production Date:
early June--late August 1942
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
30 November 1943
Copyright Number:
LP12464
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Sound System
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
90
Country:
United States
PCA No:
8600
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. ... +


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. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.