Aug 10, 2011

The Garden of Allah (1936): In My Own Words

This movie was so bad I had to tell it... in my own words. And because I'm going to tell it from beginning to end, here I place a...


You've been warned.

The place: North Africa.

The people:

a) Marlene Dietrich, a fragile girl that wants to live in reclusion in the desert after her dad died and
b) Charles Boyer, a monk that escaped from his convent.

And you learn all this in the very first minutes. Really. Zero mystery.

So, Marlene and Charles meet in a train heading for the desert. Well, what really happens is that she looks at him all the way, while he looks...troubled and sad (in Technicolor). When they arrive to destination Charles just go away with his suitcase and a guy offers his services to Marlene. Because he tells some jokes, we know he's the comic relief character. 

And by now we also know that Marlene lacks eyebrows (in Technicolor).

Later that day...

Fragile Marlene, wearing a shiny new outfit goes to a popular club in the desert. There is Charles doing what he likes the most: looking sad and troubled, while an exotic dancer moves her skeleton around.

And for some reason we don't get, Marlene is super attracted to the depressed guy. A riot starts and Charles conducts Marlene to the exit. Now they're like BFF and talk like quoting poems from a really bad book. Marlene talks with a tiny voice and when you're trying to figure out why she's imitating Minnie Mouse...

The prediction

...BOOM: a guy that's supposed to be a native fortune-teller, but really is an actor with a heavy dark make up, opens his eyes so much you think his eyeballs are gonna pop out.

And when he completely overacts you know he wants to say something important...but Charles doesn't care and they go away. Some days later, Marlene returns by herself and the fortune-teller predicts that:

a) They're gonna be happy and dream with unicorns and rainbows, BUT...
b) ....

Marlene stops him because she doesn't want to know the bad news. THE ONLY PROBLEM IS THAT WE ALREADY KNOW CHARLES IS A MONK THAT ESCAPED FROM A FREAKING CONVENT AND THEY CAN'T POSSIBLY BE TOGETHER IN THOSE TIMES...unless he's really called Maria and plays the guitar.

Anyway, Marlene and Charles are all like "Hey, meet cha at the oasis (in Technicolor)" etc etc...and even when the local priest warned them, they get married and Charles keeps his little secret.

The happy times.

Their honeymoon consist in wandering through the desert with a bunch of guys and their camels (in Technicolor). I know those are the happy times because the director decided to include some titles in italic that come from nowhere and say cheesy things like:

"Over the sand and under the shiny moon, all their dreams come true".

OK, I kind of modify a little the original text. But Marlene and Charles do say things like (this is for real):
Marlene: The sand is so warm. So alive.
Charles: It is warm for us, Domini. Alive for us.
 (They embrace on the sand [In Technicolor]. Fade out).

By now fragile Marlene has worn like 40 different shiny outfits and Charles' expression has gone from sad to super sad.

End of the happy times

As we were expecting, now come the sad times. Not only because the titles have gone, but because Charles  is now so depressed that when butterflies are near him, they die; the flowers wither; the hyenas cry; the sad clown commits suicide, etc etc. 

Some lost soldiers arrive to the newlyweds' super fancy tents (wait a minute, how can a monk that sworn eternal vows to poverty afford such a trip?). Anyway, one of the soldiers recognizes Charles and leaves without saying a word. Soon after that some guy arrives looking for Charles.  Marlene, in another shiny outfit, now really wants to know her husband's secret.

Now you think,"uhm, maybe he had a dark secret, like he killed someone or didn't read the Bible one day...something that compensates knowing the truth all the way."

Charles' explanation is...he saw....a woman....and a guy...hugging (in Technicolor)...and he wanted to feel some love too. 


Marlene is super hyperventilated and overacts just like the fortune-teller. And she protest, using her Minnie Mouse voice: "But, NO, WHY YOU DID IT? YOUR VOWS? WHAT HAPPENED WITH THEM? BUT YOUR VOWS? (changes outfit) AND YOUR VOWS? VOWS! VOWS!...".

And now you know is all over. Because, even when they're officially married, God can't share Charles' love with Marlene and he returns to the convent (in Technicolor)

The end.

Then you stare at the black screen for five minutes.


  1. Best. review. ever. (in Technicolor? ;D) I really want to watch it now - sounds like it might be a good laugh!

  2. Oh, dear. This sounds like quite a mess!

    I love how you kept saying "in Technicolor" and how at the end you inserted that part about Marlene changing her wardrobe. Haha! Even your negative reviews are entertaining. :D

  3. Hace años escuché a un crítico de cine diciendo que cómo era posible que en aquella diminuta maleta que llevaba M.D. cupieran tantos vestidos.
    No he visto la película, y tenía deseos de verla, Charles Boyer me encanta, pero me parece que voy a pasar.

  4. Haha, thank you, Sophie. Well, I don't know, you shouldn't wait your time. But the Technicolor is pretty awesome.

  5. Thanks Audrey, I'm glad you liked it! And yes, it was a mess. So predictable you wanted to press forward.

  6. HOLA, Lola!! Jajaja, no había pensado en lo de la maleta!!! Toda la razón el crítico de cine, a menos que la Dietrich se haya ido de shopping en el desierto...o en un oasis, jajaja! Lo único rescatable de la película son algunas tomas esplendorosas al estilo "produced by Selznick" y el Technicolor. Gracias por visitarme :)

  7. Thanks for putting me in your blogroll! However, I'm going to have to disagree a bit, in that "The Garden of Allah" isn't nearly as bad as you make it out to be. At least, it's no worse than other romances like "Dark Victory" or the much worse "Random Harvest", a movie which makes me retch.

    Ted S.,

  8. (This reply was previously posted over Ted's site:

    Hi Ted, thanks for highlighting my site AND adding me to your brand new blog roll!!
    Uhm, it's nice to hear different opinions, and yes, sometimes I do get carried away and I'm kind of harsh with the movies I review. I especially get mad when movies that had great cast, money, and crew, don't work.
    But I still maintain this movie is bad. Yes, there are many films in which you know from the very beginning how things ended for the main characters. And I love those movies: I love "A letter to three wives", "The barefoot contessa", "The bad and the beautiful", "I wake up screaming", and a big etc. Of course I also love the movies you mentioned, "Leave her to heaven", "Double Indemnity" & "Sunset Blvd." But those movies did something "The Garden of Allah" doesn't achieve: they kept the mystery. Even when you knew the facts, you really wanted to know how things got there and how it's gonna end.
    But in this case, it was very predictable they wouldn't be together at the end; so the whole parts of the movie become evident: "the happy times", "the start of the tension", etc etc. And when that happens, the movie has failed.
    Besides, can you recall an interesting scene, a memorable dialog? What was the point besides constructing a very unattractive melodrama, based on a main relationship that isn't well developed?
    Those classic movies you mentioned also made a deep exploration of everyone's motivations, through an effective storytelling. I don't know, the characters in "The Garden of Allah" lacked humanity, everything happened just because it had to happen; the secondary characters were unidimensional and didn't make a great contribution to the story (plus the fortune-teller guy was plain hilarious). That's also a difference with "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison", which really explore its characters motivations, which makes it so powerful.
    But I did love the Technicolor :) And I have seen worse movies than this one.

    SO SORRY I got carried away again!! I just wanted to explain my point.

    Hope to see you around!

  9. "And by now we also know that Marlene lacks eyebrows (in Technicolor)." lol! Great review! I really want to see it now, because I love laughing at terribly bad movies. ;)

  10. Thanks Rianna, I'm glad you liked my review :)

  11. I don't think you actually described anything wrong with it, you just wrote the synopsis in a sarcastic way. I thought the film was great, it's sort of witty that a bottle of liqueur topples their marriage, it's also great to watch a trappist monk get a lap dance, these things work because the film (even technicolor and music) is an excessive treat. I know it's always easy to make fun of over-the-top films but there are elements that make sense together; Dietrich has one of the most exotic looks in film history which suits the dunes, Boyer's face works best with inward torment. I like that a story about God involves permanent suffering.



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