GARDEN OF ALLAH, THE (director: Richard Boleslawski; screenwriters: W.P. Lipscomb/Lynn Riggs/from the novel by Robert Hichens; cinematographers: W. Howard Greene/Harold Hal Rosson; editors: Hal Kern/Anson Stevenson; music: Max Steiner; cast: Marlene Dietrich (Domini Enfilden), Charles Boyer (Boris Androvsky), Basil Rathbone (Count Anteoni), C. Aubrey Smith (Father Roubier), Tilly Losch (Irena), Joseph Schildkraut (Batouch), John Carradine (Sand Diviner), Alan Marshal (De Trevignac), Lucile Watson (Mother Superior); Runtime: 80; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: David O. Selznick; United Artists; 1936)
“The stars talk gibberish in this romantic melodrama as if they have sand in their mouth.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The stars talk gibberish in this romantic melodrama as if they have sand in their mouth. Previously filmed as a silent in 1917 with Tom Santsci and Helen Ware, and in 1927 with Ivan Petrovich and Alice Terry. It’s based on the popular but outdated 1904 novel by Robert Hichens and written by W.P. Lipscomb and Lynn Riggs. Director Richard Boleslawski (“Les Miserables”) keeps it dull and never more involving than a phony lovesick soap opera. It was producer David O. Selznick’s first color film (filmed mostly on location in the uncomfortable Buttercup Valley, in the Arizona desert) and the result is a lush and impressive Technicolor production that was great to look at but hard to listen to the ridiculous dialogue without puking. Marlene Dietrich and Charles Boyer try hard to make a go of it, but no thesp could be saddled with such a ludicrous script and come out of it without looking at least a little silly.
After the death of her invalid father, unhappy kind-hearted wealthy socialite Domini Enfilden (Marlene Dietrich) returns to Le Couvent de Ste. Cecile. That’s the European convent where she went to school as a child. Domini seeks the counsel of the Mother Superior, who tells the single woman she should go to the desert and the solitude will help her find herself. The obedient Domini goes to Algeria and dwells in a town on the edge of the Sahara Desert. Meanwhile, Boris Androvsky (Charles Boyer) after taking his final vows at the Trappist monastery at el Lagarnine in Tunis in Northern Africa, famous for its homemade liqueur, goes AWOL. He encounters Domini and they fall in love and marry. But she doesn’t know he took the Trappist monk vows. The secret gets challenged when he’s recognized by a traveler, De Trevignac (Alan Marshal), whose brother is a Trappist monk. Boris breaks down and tells his lady his life story. Realizing that she can’t mess with the church and God, and that Boris has the itch to return to the fold, Domini releases him from their marriage vows and he returns to the monastery with a renewed dedication to serve. She takes it like a good sport, though she has a good cry and gives off with lots of heavy breathing and deep sighs.
Basil Rathbone and C. Aubrey Smith have supporting roles as key religious figures. Joseph Schildkraut makes for a lively tour guide to the Arabian dancers; and John Carradine is foreboding as the sand diviner.
It won a special Academy Award for its use of color cinematography.
REVIEWED ON 2/3/2007 GRADE: C-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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