The Desert Song (1929 film)

The Desert Song

theatrical release poster
Directed by Roy Del Ruth
Screenplay by Harvey Gates
Story by Otto A. Harbach
Oscar Hammerstein II
Frank Mandel
Based on The Desert Song (1926 operetta)
Sigmund Romberg
Book & Lyrics:
Otto A. Harbach
Oscar Hammerstein II
Frank Mandel[1]
Starring John Boles
Carlotta King
Louise Fazenda
Myrna Loy
Music by Irving Berlin
Sigmund Romberg
Oscar Hammerstein II
Otto Harbach
Cinematography Barney McGill
Edited by Ralph Dawson
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • April 8, 1929 (1929-04-08) (NYC)
  • [2] ([2])
Running time
125 minutes[2]
Country United States
Language English

The Desert Song is a 1929 American Pre-Code operetta film directed by Roy Del Ruth and starring John Boles, Louise Fazenda, and Myrna Loy. It was photographed partly in two-color Technicolor, the first film released by Warner Bros. to be in color. Although some of the songs from the show have been omitted, the film is otherwise virtually a duplicate of the stage production and extremely faithful to it. It was based on the hit musical play with music by Sigmund Romberg and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein, Otto Harbach and Frank Mandel

The stage musical opened at the Casino Theatre on Broadway on November 30, 1926 and ran for a very successful 465 performances.[3][1] Based on the success of this film, Warner Bros. quickly cast John Boles in an all color musical feature called Song of the West which was completed by June 1929 but had its release delayed until March 1930.


French General Birabeau has been sent to Morocco to root out and destroy the Riffs, a band of Arab rebels, who threaten the safety of the French outpost in the Moroccan desert. Their dashing, daredevil leader is the mysterious "Red Shadow". Margot Bonvalet, a lovely, sassy French girl, is soon to be married at the fort to Birabeau's right-hand man, Captain Fontaine. Birabeau's son Pierre, in reality the Red Shadow, loves Margot, but pretends to be a milksop to preserve his secret identity. Margot tells Pierre that she secretly yearns to be swept into the arms of some bold, dashing sheik, perhaps even the Red Shadow himself. Pierre, as the Red Shadow, kidnaps Margot and declares his love for her.

To her surprise, Margot's mysterious abductor treats her with every Western consideration. When the Red Shadow comes face to face with General Birabeau, the old man challenges the rebel leader to a duel. Of course Pierre will not kill his own father, so he refuses to fight, losing the respect of the Riffs. Azuri, the sinuous and secretive native dancing girl, might be persuaded to answer some of these riddles if only she can be persuaded by Captain Fontaine. Meanwhile, two other characters, Benny (a reporter) and Susan provide comic relief. Eventually, the Red Shadow's identity is discovered, a deal is struck with the Riffs, and Pierre and Margot live happily ever after.

Pre-Code Sequences

After 1935, the original 1929 version became impossible to exhibit in the United States due to its pre-Production Code era content, which included sexual innuendo, lewd suggestive humor and open discussion of themes such as homosexuality (e.g. Johnny Arthur plays a character who is obviously gay). Consequently, a cleaned-up remake was released in 1943, with a third version following in 1953.



  • "Riff Song"
  • "French Marching Song"
  • "Then You Will Know"
  • "The Desert Song"
  • "Azuri's Dance"
  • "Love's Dear Yearning"

  • "Let Love Go"
  • "One Flower"
  • "One Alone"
  • "Sabre Song"
  • "The Desert Song Ballet"

Preservation status

The film exists only in a black and white copy. The film elements are missing from a small portion of one of the musical numbers but the complete soundtrack survives intact on Vitaphone disks.[4]

Warner Brothers color movies in order of release date

Title Year Preservation
The Desert Song 1929 Survives in black and white with missing musical number.
On with the Show 1929 Only survives in black and white.
Song of the West 1929 Lost film. Completed in June 1929. Release delayed until March 1930.
Gold Diggers of Broadway 1929 Lost film. Only two reels survive and full soundtrack on phonographic disc
Paris 1929 Lost film.
The Show of Shows 1929 Photographed almost entirely in color by Technicolor, but today only survives in black and white television copy's with only one surviving color sequence in color, The Chinese Fantasy with Myrna Loy and Nick Lucas
Sally 1929 Only survives in black and white except The Wild Rose scene.
General Crack 1930 Survives in a silent copy.
No, No Nanette 1930 Lost film.
Hold Everything 1930 Lost film.

See also


  1. 1 2 The Desert Song on Internet Broadway Database
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 The Desert Song at the American Film Institute Catalog
  3. Musical Theatre Guide
  4. American Film Institute (1978) Catalog of Holdings The American Film Institute Collection and The United Artists Collection at The Library of Congress p.42
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