BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE DESERT SONG (Warner Archives)

By • Oct 3rd, 2014 •

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This, the second of three celluloid iterations of the Sigmund Romberg operetta, is the only one whose time frame is shifted – topically – to the time of the Nazi sweep across Europe. Well, it’s Warner Bros, is it not? And no company was more topical – ripping their story ideas from the headlines. So this is a fun transposition and entirely in keeping with the studio’s modus operandi..

And the print is gorgeous. It feels like some restoration work had to have been done. The Technicolor hues are delicious. They, added to director Robert Florey’s deft hand with framing, blocking, and mise en scene, carry you rapturously through at least half the film.

And it’s at about the halfway mark that the flaws make themselves known. Neither Dennis Morgan nor Irene Manning have compelling personae. Morgan is interestingly self-important, and Manning’s hair looks great in Technicolor, but they don’t grab us and shake us up much during the second and third acts. Also, script-wise, she loves him but stupidly gets him in real trouble and never really fesses up to him what she did.

Who is really good, giving the film some grounding, is Bruce Cabot, as a gray-shaded officer, both good and dangerous. And charming. I’ve never seen him better. Also, the faces that Florey has populated the frames with are lovely. All the lesser and extras roles are carefully and cannily cast.

This is known as an operetta, but the few key songs are not memorable. More impressive is the indigenous music, which I re-watched/listened to again purely for enjoyment. In one café sequence there’s an entertainer who does a brief but reasonable Maurice Chevalier impression.

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