Wednesday, June 13, 2012
The Garden of Allah (1936)
Dietrich is Domini Enfilden, a convent-educated girl in Africa who yearns to see the desert. She meets Boris Androvsky (Charles Boyer), a monk who has fled his Trappist monastery. He had been happy in the monastery where his job was to make the liqueur for which the monastery was famous. The secret of this liqueur had been passed down from one brother to another and now that he has fled he has taken the secret with him. There will be no more Lagardine liqueur.
Boris is haunted by guilt for breaking his vows. He has never really lost his faith and is torn between that faith and his love for Domini. His past will of course catch to him and he will face a terrible choice.
Boris is really the central character but Dietrich, being Dietrich, still manages to dominate the movie with her extraordinary screen presence. While it’s true that she misses the guiding hand of Joseph von Sternberg (this film was directed by Richard Boleslawski) she still has that Dietrich magic. And she looks as beautiful in colour as she did in black-and-white.
C. Aubrey Smith gives a typical C. Aubrey Smith performance as a kindly priest who disapproves of Boris’s actions but can’t help having a good deal of sympathy for the unfortunate lovers and in his own way he hopes that both will find some kind of happiness and fulfillment.
And overshadowing all the characters is the desert itself, a place that brings them face-to-face with their deepest anxieties and longings.
This is a movie about faith and it approaches the subject seriously and with sensitivity. Movies about faith are nowadays profoundly out of fashion and some modern audiences may find this concern with faith, and with the sanctity of vows (vows that Domini takes as seriously as does Boris), puzzling and alienating. That’s unfortunate because unless you can accept that this concern really does matter to the characters you may have difficulty appreciating the film.
My advice would be to give this very underrated movie a chance. If nothing else it’s a visual feast and it’s a chance to see Marlene Dietrich in a very sympathetic role. Not a movie for everybody perhaps but I still recommend it.
The Region 2 DVD from PT Video is magnificent, preserving all the qualities of the superb Technicolor cinematography.