THE DESERT SONG (1943)

Dir. Robert Florey

The second screen version of Sigmund Romberg's classic operetta has long been unavailable because of Warner Bros.' 1953 remake with Kathryn Grayson and Gordon MacRae. Upon its release it was also overshadowed, by the studio's other North African tale, Casablanca (1942), shot at the same time but released earlier. Yet it has its own merits, including robust singing by Dennis Morgan and Irene Manning in the lead, luscious Technicolor photography and a delirious plot that transforms the French colonial villains of the original operetta into Nazi infiltrators. Morgan stars as a U.S. soldier of fortune posing as a mild-mannered pianist at a local nightclub, leading the Riffs against foreign influences while in disguise as El Khobar, a dashing Arabian Robin Hood. For World War II audiences, the French who were now U.S. allies, had to be re-cast in a more positive light. And the bandit's original name, the Red Shadow, was out because of its association with Communism. But the great Romberg tunes—including "One Alone," "The Riff Song" and "Romance"— enchanted fans.

This screening is presented with a print courtesy of Warner Bros. Classics.

THE DESERT SONG
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