………You’ll hear me say from time  to time what a shame a film ( usually a musical or a western) wasn’t in color. Technicolor was available in Hollywood in the 1930s, but only used sparingly.

I recently watched The Garden Of Allah   for the first time. What a feast for the eye.And showing that Technicolor in the early 1930s was already perfected. I’m not sure why it wasn’t used more – cost and lack of Technicolor cameras I’ve read.

I think this film would be even more admired , but it was let down by a script which really didn’t amount to much. Marlene Dietrich and Charles Boyer trying to ‘find themselves’ in the African desert. Marlene, an heiress who has led a sheltered life, Boyer, a Trappist monk with a crisis of faith.

A terrific supporting  cast including a sympathetic Basil Rathbone (that didn’t happen often!), the wonderful Joseph Schildkraut as an Arab guide,  John Carradine, Sir C. Aubrey Smith (and a young Marcia Mae Jones and Bonita Granville.)

Filmed partly in Yuma, Arizona by Selznick International Pictures, the visuals ( including an incredible costume range for Marlene) are everything- including many stunning close -ups of Marlene.

But in the end, I didn’t actually get to the end!  It was so grindingly slow with so little action.

The film won a special Oscar for color cinematography, and Max Steiner was nominated for his music score.






No, it’s not The Desert Song.

Not much smiling from the two stars in the film.

The film’s director was Richard Boleslawski (1899-1937) who sadly died of a heart attack during the filming of THE LAST OF MRS.CHEYNEY (1937). Born in Poland, he came to Hollywood in 1929 and directed THE PAINTED  VEIL, LES MISERABLES, CLIVE OF INDIA, THEODORA GOES WILD.

Richard Boleslawski



Melvyn Douglas, Irene Dunne, Richard Boleslawski.THEODORA GOES WILD.




The famed hotel on Sunset Boulevard was originally a private residence bought by silent star Alla Nazimova (1879-1945)  in 1919 and converted it into a hotel in 1927 (the star  then  sold it in 1930 ).

Containing private bungalows, the hotel became very popular with Hollywood stars ,  but by 1959 the hotel was demolished.



Based on a 1904 novel by English writer Robert Hichens, there were two silent versions of the novel, in 1916 and 1927.


Robert Hichens also wrote The Paradine Case in 1933 .Hitchcock made the film version in 1947.

“The Garden of Allah”, according to IMDB , was the third feature made in color – after BECKY SHARP(1935) and DANCING PIRATE (1936).
During the 1930s several films, like THE CAT  AND THE FIDDLE, LA CUCARACHA had color sequences.

In 1939 there were 13 three-strip Technicolor films; 15 in 1940 and 19 in 1941 – very small percentages of all films released.

10 responses »

  1. I used to read about Robert Benchley (among many others) staying at the Garden of Allah when he was in Los Angeles for movie work. Do you have any idea if/how the name of the hotel was the inspiration for the film?

    • Yes, Benchley was one of many stars who stayed at the hotel which was famous for its parties.
      The film was based on the Hichens 1904 novel which had been filmed twice in the silent era. I imagine the hotel owners in 1936 would be pleased with the publicity when the film was released.

  2. You don’t mention Tilly Losch, whose dance number is intended to be disturbingly erotic – and might be, if, like Boyer’s character, you had just left a monastery.

    The movie does look great, though.

    • You’re right. I should have mentioned Tilly Losch. Her dance near the start of the film is quite something!

  3. Lovely selection of images Vienna.

    Tilly Losch had a fascinating, promiscuous life.
    Lover to Lotte Lenya and then to Marlene, and wife of the 6th Earl of Carnarvon, which made her a Countess.

    • I see from IMDB that she only made four films and that she had danced with Fred Astaire in the Broadway production of The Band Wagon.

  4. As a Marlene fan, I am always prepared to enjoy her many films but the only word I can summon up for this is “turgid”!
    The saving graces are some of the performances, Max Steiner’s melodic music and the use of Technicolor, which gives the film a gorgeous glowing look.
    On a side note there are a series of novels featuring the Garden of Allah complex during the early thirties, right up to the late 1950’s by Martin Turnbull, which encapsulate the Hollywood of the period.

    I’ve consumed them all and can recommend them as a good read.

  5. I’m oddly fond of this movie. It might be style over substance, but I guess I’ll always go for style over substance if given the choice.

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