The Desert Song (1953)

desert song 1953And here you thought Moroccans didn’t burst into song when pillaging the French Foreign Legion.


This might be the best musical you’ve never seen. Well, I guess it’s more of an “operetta” but that word sounds boring. We’ll call it a “musicoperetticalooza.”

The Desert Song is a rare gem. I absolutely love the music, and Gordon MacRae is one of the best baritones in the biz, but for whatever reason this movie doesn’t get a lot of attention from the cinematic universe. Also, I will warn you that this film is hard to find when it’s not recorded off of TV by my mom in 1993.

It started in 1926 with music by Sigmund Romberg and lyrics by Otto Harbach, Frank Mandel, and some yahoo named Oscar Hammerstein. This 1953 version was the third time this musicoperetticalooza was made into a movie. (And yes, I know you don’t think that word is funny yet, but I’m going to keep using it just to spite you.)

gordon macrae desert songThe Desert Song was inspired by the 1925 uprising of a group of Moroccans known as the Riffians (or “Riffs”) against French colonial rule. Its hero is like a French version of Lawrence of Arabia, who was British—so of course Warner Brothers cast an American. (It’s OK, Gordon, we don’t blame you.)

Actually, I’m pretty sure the whole cast is played by Americans—though I noticed one guy made a hearty attempt to fool us with a French accent that sounded like the psychotic chef from The Little Mermaid. (Hey man, A+ for effort, though.)

One other pickle I noticed the studio got itself into was skin color, particularly with the Moroccan love interest named Azuri. She starts out with dark makeup covering her face and body but somehow pulls a Michael Jackson halfway through the movie. It sort of felt like the makeup artists gave up during production and said, “Who are we kidding?”

The film stars Kathryn Grayson (Show Boat and Anchors Aweigh), Gordon MacRae (Oklahoma!), Ray Collins (Tragg from Perry Mason), and two people from Calamity Jane named Allyn Ann McLerie and Dick Wesson. (Dick was the one in that film who sang, “I’ve got a hive full of honey for the right kind of honeybee” and made the rest of us extremely uncomfortable.)

OH, SOMETHING YOU SHOULD KNOW: This week I actually did find The Desert Song on Amazon, but they must have found out I lost my mom’s VHS copy because they charged me like 20 bucks for the DVD. What do they think this show is—some kind of musicoperetticalooza?

I’ll keep the sermon brief today: If you want to know which leaders you can trust, study what they’ve done more than what they say. The price of the loyalty you offer to any leader must include their commitment to integrity and a quiet generosity to the less fortunate.

“When the wicked rule the people mourn. Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil.” — Doctrine & Covenants 98:9-10

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