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From 1942 to 1954 Universal Studios delighted Saturday matinee audiences with a steady stream of impossibly colorful desert adventure films. Whatever you choose to call them - oriental swashbucklers, eastern westerns, etc - they delivered playfully exotic sets and costumes, plenty of action , sweeping vistas from cool oasis to burning sands - plus, of course, handsome heroes, fabulously photogenic leading ladies and luscious Technicolor to die for.To the generation that first enjoyed them they remain a fond and vivid memory.Other studios frequently copied them. But nobody did it up quite like Universal. Some of their films of the period nearly deserve inclusion. But if I recall correctly, "Cobra Woman"'s more a tropical island film, "A Night in Paradise" is set in a kind of Max Factorized Ancient Greece and "Sign of the Pagan"'s an Attila the Hun story.

They're kissing cousins to the desert films. All close. But no cigar. Or hookah.

I'd say there are 14 Universal titles that legitimately qualify. Two of them have already made it to DVD. "Arabian Nights"(1942), the great Maria Montez-Jon Hall adventure that kicked off the whole series, appeared on its own within the last year or two. And "The Golden Blade" turned up as part of MCA's all-over the-map Rock Hudson set. That still leaves 12 titles ripe for reissue. Why not two box sets - six films in each?


I'd call it THE DESERT SANDS COLLECTION and here's how I'd organize it:



1.ALI BABA & THE 40 THIEVES('44) Maria Montez,Jon Hall

2.SUDAN('45) Maria Montez,Jon Hall

3.SLAVE GIRL('47) Yvonne DeCarlo,George Brent

4.THE DESERT HAWK('50) Yvonne DeCarlo,Richard Greene

5.THE GOLDEN HORDE('51) Ann Blyth,David Farrar

6.VEILS OF BAGDAD('53) Victor Mature,Mari Blanchard


and later ... VOLUME TWO

1.BAGDAD('49) Maureen O'Hara,Paul Christian

2.FLAME OF ARABY('51) Maureen O'Hara,Jeff Chandler

3.THE PRINCE WHO WAS A THIEF('51) Tony Curtis,Piper Laurie

4.SON OF ALI BABA('52) Tony Curtis,Piper Laurie

5.DESERT LEGION('53) Alan Ladd,Arlene Dahl

6.YANKEE PASHA('54) Jeff Chandler,Rhonda Fleming


I'd buy 'em both. And I don't think I'm alone. And , if the box set idea doesn't fly, how about gradually releasing a straight series of DESERT SANDS DOUBLE BILLS ?


1. The 2 Maria Montez-Jon Hall titles

2. The 2 Yvonne DeCarlo titles

3. The 2 Maureen O'Hara titles

4. The 2 Tony Curtis-Piper Laurie titles


6.DESERT LEGION + YANKEE PASHA (one Arlene Dahl plus one Rhonda Fleming -how's that for Technicolor heaven?

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Sounds good. But I'll add two Burt Lancaster films "Rope of Sand (1949)" with Burt, Paul Henreid Claude Rains,Peter Lorre & Corinne Calvet and "Desert Fury (1947)" with Lancaster,John Hodiak ,Lizabeth Scott and Mary Astor. Even though they're both from Paramount Pictures.


I'd be the first on line to buy...




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Though "Desert Fury" and "Rope of Sand" aren't quite the kind of films I was thinking of, they're surely worthy of some sort of DVD release. "Desert Fury"'s a modern crime drama set in California, I believe. Certainly Lizabeth Scott never looked better and the color's wonderful. But I'd peg this as an example of what one writer (thinking specifically of "Leave Her to Heaven") dubbed "noirzipan". "Rope of Sand"'s another modern crime drama; I think it has to do with the mining industry in South Africa. And though deserts are definitely involved, I don't think this one's in color. So it definitely doesn't fit the vision in my head. I was thinking more of movies with dashing caliphs, wicked pashas, minarets, scimitars and dancing girls - all the standard Arabian Nights based fairy tale motifs.

Certainly other studios pitched their tents in that colorful terrain from time to time. Titles that come to mind include "Princess of the Nile"('54-Debra Paget,Jeffrey Huntert) and "The Adventures of Hajji Baba"('54- John Derek) -both from 20th Century Fox, "Omar Khayyam"('56-Cornel Wilde) - from Paramount. And a slew of them from Columbia i.e. "Serpent of the Nile"('53-Rhonda Fleming,William Lundigan) and "Siren of Bagdad"('53-Paul Henreid,Patricia Medina). One I've never caught up with that stands high on my want-to-see list is Walter Wanger's "Aladdin and His Lamp"('52), released by Monogram, of all studios. But the stills with Patricia Medina and John(ny) Sands look awfully enticing. Anyway, I'd welcome DVD releases from the various copyright holders of all these titles. But the ideal DESERT SANDS series I'd imagined would concentrate strictly on Universal's merrily gleaming little treasure chest.

Some Foreign Legion films contain enough of the accepted storybook elements to qualify for inclusion. Definitely "Desert Legion"('53) with its hidden Shangri-La type city, palace intrigues and, of course, a peak-of-her-loveliness Arlene Dahl in full harem regalia.

I've always been surprised that Hollywood never managed to turn out even one top-notch Arabian Nights musical. You'd think the exotic settings, opulent costumes and generally perfumed atmosphere would lend themselves beautifully to the genre. Yet Warner Bros made several attempts at "The Desert Song" and never got it right - in spite of enlisting top-drawer talents like Dennis Morgan, Kathryn Grayson and Gordon Macrae. Similarly MGM fumbled with "Kismet", serving up a thunderingly bad (and largely songless) version in '44, then compounding the crime with a brain-dead musical edition in '56. Again, the cast was great - Howard Keel, Ann Blyth and Vic Damone all resplendent in oriental garb. The misfire was especially surprising with movie-musical genius Vincent Minnelli at the helm. But reportedly he hated the project and only took it on to fulfill a contractual obligation. Too bad - a splendid opportunity missed. Still, it did leave us with a lovely soundtrack album.

In the 70's I remember going to the Shaw Festival in southern Ontario to see one of their side-bar productions, a stunning stage revival of "The Desert Song". It was amazing. I remember at the time a seasoned Toronto critic wrote that if anyone had told her she'd actually -in that day and age - be teary-eyed with emotion at a production of the old Romberg chestnut she'd have said they were crazy. But that's just the effect it had. On her and almost everyone else in the audience.The team behind it managed to achieve a perfect blend of sentiment, suspense and, of course, beautifully performed music - with leads whose storybook fates you somehow couldn't help caring about. Wish I could remember the players' names. What I do knowl, though, is that it still ranks among my very favorite musical theater experiences. And within the last year or two the Toronto Operetta Theatre mounted a brief run of "Kismet" that hit all the right notes, musically and dramatically - and on a shoe-string budget. I remember tenor Peter McCutcheon made a particularly endearing young caliph - and did full vocal justice to "Stranger in Paradise" and "Night of My Nights" . But the whole thing was lovely. Which shows that the potential for a good film version has always been there. We probably won't see it now though. I doubt today's mass movie audience could really respond to the soprano-centric operetta style music. Unless they replaced the scores with droning power ballads and jackhammer Hip-Hop , added a lot of frat-house comedy and made the principals kids with too much attitude. But those are versions of "Kismet" and "The Desert Song" I'd rather not see.

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