A Trappist monk, who holds the secret of the monastery's excellent liqueur, makes a break for it, bumps into, and falls in love with, Marlene Deitrich, a devout Catholic, who learns the truth of his past from *BASIL RATHBONE* while vacationing in the trackless wastes of the Sahara desert. Will he or won't he return to the monastery, and why?
I never allow Political Correctness to get in the way of my enjoyment of a movie. In fact, I'll enjoy a movie to *spite* Political Correctness.
But this is one of the most racist movies I've ever seen. And it is massively inept. You really wonder how the same man who produced GWTW, David Selznick, could have produced this fiasco.
"The Garden of Allah" is unintentionally funny. In scene after scene, Arabs are depicted as being sex-obsessed bafoons. They are also depicted as having the same facial features as Northern Europeans, only with heavy dark make-up. And blue eyes peeking out.
Joseph Schildkraut and John Carridine play Arabs. Oh, okay. Then why not we use Hattie MacDaniel in our next movie to play Pat Nixon. Makes exactly as much sense.
There is a scene where a bunch of Arabs, all in matching white burnooses, are sitting around the desert at night, singing folksongs with some French Foreign Legionairres, and their heads are all moving back and forth to the same beat. One of the funniest scenes I've ever seen. Not meant to be.
In another scene, a "dancer" squats and bends backward, utterly grotesque, an insult to real belly dancing.
All I kept thinking was, "What would an Arab make of this movie?" Probably they couldn't even watch it, or would watch it in a boiling rage.
But there are other scenes, equally funny, that have nothing to do with Arabs. Marlene Deitrich goes to a European convent to get advice on what to do with her life. She's dressed, OF COURSE, to the nines. She couldn't survive more than a mile away from a 24-hour source of silk stockings. This is a woman whose greatest trek would be from the backseat of a limo to the front door of a nightclub.
So this nun, a propos de rien, says, "Why don't you go out into the desert?" Yeah, right! Nuns always say that to women who go to them for advice!
And ... Basil Rathbone. Need I say more? Basil Rathbone in a bright red robe -- thrown over a houndstooth check wool jacket -- wandering around the Sahara, trying to look at home? I don't think so.
AND THEN you get an hour into this unintentional laugh-fest and there comes the scene where Boyer has to explain to Deitrich why he left the monastery, and Boyer is so fantastic in this scene, so genuinely, deeply moving, when he's finally given a chance, by this movie, to act, and given a chance, by this script, to say something coherent, and it's one of the most moving moments that the movies have produced on the matters of faith in God, and worldliness, and sex, and eroticism, and love. Really. It's that good -- good enough to sit through an hour of inept movie-making just to see it, and place in it context. Check it out.