The Desert Song (1953)

Film Review


Release Date: 30 May, 1953

Studio: Warner Bros.

Directors: H. Bruce Humberstone

Starring: Kathryn Grayson, Gordon MacRae, Steve Cochran, Raymond Massey


In Algiers, the Riffs, a desert tribe, are led by the mysterious El Khobar (MacRae) against the forces of a treacherous Arab sheik (Massey). The sheik's men have been stealing food and supplies from the Riffs. Captain Cochran of the French Foreign Legion supports the sheik against the Riffs, but the newly arrived General Collins is open to both sides. The general asks shy archeologist MacRae to tutor his high-spirited daughter, Grayson. MacRae, who is also El Khobar, kidnaps Grayson and takes her to the Riff's camp. He wants to bring her father into the desert so that he can learn about the sufferings of the Riffs. Together in the desert, Grayson and El Khobar fall in love. The sheik's soldiers snatch Grayson from the Riff camp, and El Khobar leads the Riff's against them. General Collins, Captain Cochran and the legionnaires arrive to end the fighting, and General Collins, who has learned the truth about the deceitful sheik, arrests him. El Khobar has disappeared, and Archeologist MacRae appears with his clothes and announces that El Khobar is dead. Grayson is deeply saddened by this news until she learns that the not-so-shy archeologist and El Khobar are one and the same.


The original stage production of The Desert Song, music by Sigmund Romberg and book by Otto Harbach, Oscar Hammerstein II and Frank Mandel, ran for more than a year on Broadway (1926-1928). The operetta has been filmed three times (1929, 1943, and 1953), and a live television special was produced in 1955. Romberg's music is the main reason for producing Desert Song. On film, location shooting and exciting action sequences strengthen the weak plot.

The 1953 film version is notable for the first-rate singing of Grayson and MacRae, their pleasing personalities, the amused villainy of Raymond Massey, vivid color photography, and scenic desert locations. MacRae, lively and engaging, imparts earnestness, vigor, and humor to the character of El Khobar.

Director Humberstone enjoyed a long career (1924-1966) turning out well-made, entertaining films. During the thirties he specialized in semi-comic mysteries, including four Charlie Chan films. At Twentieth-Century Fox in the forties he directed musicals and comedies. In the fifties his output included westerns and two Tarzan films (1958). He concluded his career (1958-1966) directing episodes of television series. A straightforward, get-the-script-on-film type of director, his movies display few distinctive touches, but his filmography, although lacking classics, includes some fine films, most notably I Wake Up Screaming and Tall, Dark and Handsome (both 1941).

Kathryn Grayson's career is discussed in our review of It Happened in Brooklyn (1947).