(director/writer: Albert Lewin; screenwriter: from the novel Echec au destin by Francis D’Autheville; cinematographer: Christopher Challis; editor: Harold F. Kress; music: Bronislau Kaper; cast: Rita Gam (Saadia), Michel Simon(Bou Rezza, Bandit chief), Wanda Rotha (Fatima), Mel Ferrer (Henrik), Cornel Wilde (Si Lahssen), Cyril Cusack (Khadir), Marne Maitland (Horse dealer), Marcel Poncin(Moha), Jacques Dufilho (Bandit Leader); Runtime: 82; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Albert Lewin; MGM; 1953)

Despite ringing mostly false notes in its depiction of Arabs and life in colonial Morocco, the pic gets over these humps because it’s entertaining . . ..”

Reviewed by Dennis SchwartzModern medicine bests witchcraft in the main event in this imperialist desert drama, where the French colonialists in early 20th century French Morocco are revered as gods after a stoically sincere French doctor gets the better of an evil local witch. Director/writer/producer Albert Lewin (“The Picture of Dorian Gray”/”The Moon and Sixpence”/”Pandora and the Flying Dutchman”)bases the unbelievable cornball melodrama onthe novel Echec au destin by Francis D’Autheville. Despite ringing mostly false notes in its depiction of Arabs and life in colonial Morocco, the pic gets over these humps because it’s entertaining, conjures up some exotic visual Technicolor desert scenes and its hokum adventure tale about an idealistic young saintly French doctor running away from civilization to forget about losing during the war the girl in the Resistance he loved can never be taken seriously for even a Hollywood second and therefore is just ignored to take in the beautiful desert location shots in Marrakech, French Morocco.

Cornel Wilde is Prince Si Lahssen, the progressive ruler of the Moroccan province of Anahout, where the locals are spellbound by the powers of the local witch Fatima (Wanda Rotha). The French educated Si Lahssen befriends the gifted and kindhearted Parisian doctor Henrik (Mel Ferrer), who runs the clinic using Western medicine. Henrik accepts the appeal of a father (Marcel Poncin) to save his sick girl, who the villagers say is possessed of the ‘evil eye’ given her by Fatima and believe whoever touches her will die. Henrik accurately diagnoses she has acute appendicitis, and performs a successful surgery. This turns the tide for the superstitious locals to accept Western medicine as more potent than Fatima’s sorcery, since the witch had the patient before and couldn’t cure her. In gratitude for her recovery, Saadia does volunteer work at the hospital. But the witch fights back, threatening Saadia that the doctor will be killed by her voodoo if she doesn’t return. Si Lahssen then consults the village’s wise Holy Man (Cyril Cusack), who says that Saadia has a strong love for either Henrik or Si Lahssen which will save her from becoming possessed again by the witch.

When a plague falls on the area, the plane carrying the serum from France crashes in the desert and a hostile tribe recovers the valuable cargo and refuses to relinquish it without bargaining for an impossible high price. A guilt-ridden Saadia, thinking her curse caused the plague and realizing time is of the essence, rides by horse alone to the secluded Spanish Infi mountain retreat of the tribe and kills their slimy chieftain (Michel Simon) and flees with the medicine. The plague is contained and Western medicine rules the day, as the witch makes one last attempt to kill the doctor and the bandit tribe returns to get revenge on Saadia. Both evil forces are rebuffed by the forces of good (the local tribes under the Prince and the soldiers of the French colonialists), and now the only surprise left is to find out if it’s the foreigner Henrik or the tribal Si Lahssen that the gritty Berber girl loves. Since there was no chemistry between Saadia and either man, the film can’t be faulted for taking the easy way out and choosing a safe traditional ending.

It works as an escapist pic that wants one to believe that good thoughts could overcome bad thoughts. Even though if one were looking for reasons to dump on it, there are many such reasons. Still I found it watchable despite a terrible story, because I got off viewing all the the natives in various colored robes (sort of like how I enjoy killing time in the doctor’s waiting room when leafing through National Geographic).

REVIEWED ON 8/17/2011 GRADE:   B-