The Desert Song (1943)

Film Review


Release Date: 17 December, 1943

Studio: Warner Bros.

Director: Robert Florey

Starring: Dennis Morgan, Irene Manning, Bruce Cabot

Special Notes: TCM Classic Film Festival, 2013

Shown as part of the Discoveries theme, the film was introduced by TCM television host Robert Osborne.


The story is set in Morocco, North Africa. In the town where French troops are stationed, Morgan is a nightclub pianist, but in the desert he is the secret leader (known as El Khobar) of the Riffs, Arab rebels. The Riffs fight to gain freedom from forced labor on a railroad being built across their territory and to stop the Germans who are building it. Cabot, the leader of the French troops, has been secretly aiding a local chieftain in the railroad project, but he does not know about the German involvement. Manning, a cafe singer newly arrived in Morocco, is pursued by both Cabot and Morgan (in his El Khobar character). Cabot, anxious to capture El Khobar, learns Morgan's secret. However, after Morgan convinces him that the Germans are the backers of the railroad, Cabot joins with Morgan in stopping them.


The operetta Desert Song, with a score written by Sigmund Romberg, opened on Broadway in 1926. This 1943 film version, which only recently became available for viewing, had not been seen in over fifty years due to various issues, including the rights to the story and the songs. A remake was made in 1952 (with Gordon MacRae and Katherine Grayson), and the studio (Warner Bros) was uninterested in preserving the 1943 version. The original story about the Riffs' resistance to French colonial rule was altered to a wartime theme of opposition to Nazi Germany. The improbable story provides lively fun, and the songs are nicely sung by Morgan and Manning. Beautiful technicolor greatly enhances the visual impact of the film. The Moroccan sets were used for both Desert Song and Casablanca, which was being filmed at the same time.