Thursday, October 09, 2014

The Desert Song (1943)

Lavish Technicolor musical and action-packed adventure story, adapted from the 1926 Romberg operetta -- here updated to take place in the days right before the second World War -- about an American pianist in French Morocco who secretly fights to defend the Arabs against the Nazis.

Dennis Morgan and Irene Manning make for appealing leads, but lack the chemistry to make the most of the film's romantic plot. The good supporting cast includes Bruce Cabot, Gene Lockhart, Faye Emerson, Curt Bois, Marcel Dalio and Nestor Paiva, but none of them are given much to do with their characters. Only Lynne Overman as Morgan's friend, a wise-cracking American journalist eager to get a big scoop, really makes an impression.

Director Robert Florey was always an interesting craftsman, one who was interested in experimentation, but who never seemed to really develop a distinctive visual style of his own. As a result, much of the film is shot flat and conventionally, with occasional visual flourishes and interesting camera angles, especially during the music numbers, that call attention to themselves rather than working as part of the overall style. Still, his skillful handling of the rousing action sequences is admirable.

Long unavailable due to rights issues, it has recently become available again in a restored version that does justice to the gorgeous Technicolor cinematography (by Bert Glennon) which gives the film much of its appeal and heightens its stylized, fantastic qualities.

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