Sigmund Romberg’s “The Desert Song” (1926) ran for 471 performances and was adapted on film in 1929, 1943 (the Nazis are the villains here), and in color in 1953. In 1955, it was shown on television as part of the Max Liebman Presents series; and that abridged version is now part of the invaluable series of DVDs of vintage television shows from VAI.
This 75-minute black-and-white version drops two comic characters and their songs, but keeps what is left intact (although I cannot vouch for the dialogue). Those familiar with “The Mark of Zorro,” “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” and even Superman will spot the creaky plot in which a hero poses as a coward. Here Pierre (Nelson Eddy), the son of a French General (Otto Kruger), falls for the beautiful Margot (Gale Sherwood). Disguised as the bane of the French, the Red Shadow, Pierre kidnaps her; and what there is of a creaky plot develops along very predictable lines.
But the essence of “The Desert Song” consists of “One alone,” “Romance,” the title song, and some lesser but pleasing numbers. There is a good deal of dance, a bit too much, considering how much plot had to be cut; but Bambi Lynn and Rod Alexander justify the time devoted to the ballet.
It is a pity that the secondary pair of lovers had to be dropped, because the main plot is not all that engrossing. But face it: it is the music that counts in operettas and of that there is plenty.
Eddy is not complimented by close-ups, but his baritone is still pleasant. Sherwood is described as his post-MacDonald partner. I find her easier to take than her predecessor. It is good to see the old opera buffa basso Salvatore Baccaloni as a Moroccan bigwig, but it is not easy to understand what he is saying.
The picture is a kinescope (a camera filming a television screen) and the sound is obviously not up to today’s standards. But it is such fun and a must for lovers of the old romantic times when Romberg gave the people what they wanted.
NOTE Some of the other televised musicals in this series are “Naughty Marietta,” “Kiss Me Kate,” “Dearest Enemy,” “A Connecticut Yankee,” “The Yeomen of the Guard,” and the Groucho Marx “The Mikado.”