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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

'The Desert Song' (1943) DVD: Operatic Morocco-based WWII Drama

The Desert Song (1943)
Warner Archive continues its series of hybrid-genre DVD releases, included the Unreal TV reviewed juvenile delinquent Western "The Young Guns," with the 1943 technicolor musical extravaganza/WWII drama "The Desert Song."  As Archive shares, this film updates a well-known operetta score by Sigmund Romberg by setting the story in 1939 Morocco. The spectacle regarding this one makes it a good companion to that other classic drama based in WWII-era Morocco.

As an aside, Archive has also released a DVD of the 1953 version of "Desert." This one has not made its way into the Unreal TV home video library.

The good people at Archive make a perfect choice in selecting the following clip, via YouTube, of a scene from "Desert" to convey the spirit of the film. It has two of our leads entering a proverbial hornet's nest and experiencing the exotic nature of their temporary home while creating suspense regarding a possible melee. 


Much of the action in the film centers around mysterious outlaw El Khobar leading a group of desert bandits on sabotage raids directed at the building of a railroad that outwardly is a project of the French military but has a not-so-well concealed hidden purpose. This belligerent bedouin is also notable for his striking resemble to charming expatriate Paul Hudson, played by Dennis Morgan of "Christmas in Connecticut."

Two sides of the the love triangle that is a staple of the films of this era consists of Hudson and newly arrived chanteuse Margot, played by Irene Manning of the (recently released on Blu-ray) James Cagney opus "Yankee Doodle Dandy."  French army Colonel Fontaine provides the third side (or wheel). Bruce Cabot of the original "King Kong" does a great job playing the handful of facets of Fontaine.

One of the most amusing scenes has Hudson playfully teasing Margot regarding her singing and the latter responding in kind. Additionally, their romance has an awesome Superman/Clark Kent/Lois Lane feel to it.

The character of typical veteran newspaper man Johnny Walsh, who is has a wonderful bromance with Hudson, both provides terrific comic relief and shines as the buffon who displays tremendous bravery when necessary.

The aforementioned band of desert bandits both provide the proverbial cast of thousands and make up the chorus of the film.

The nice musical elements of "Desert" extend beyond the aforementioned notable score and strong talent of Morgan and Manning. The musical numbers largely consisting of night club performances by Hudson or Margot or otherwise making sense regarding the plot evokes thoughts of Tracey Ullman stating regarding her eponymous '80s Fox series that the musical numbers in the episodes will not simply be someone bursting into song for no apparent reason.

"Desert" additionally pays off with a final roughly 15 minutes that is comparable to many great films out there. A serious "wacky misunderstanding," the beginning of an unexpected beautiful friendship, and a (quasi-predictable) exposure of nefarious dealings are only part of what will keep you on the edge of your divan during these segments.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Desert" is strongly encouraged to email me. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.