The Garden of Allah long before I did; she highly recommended it, saying, "I saw a movie you would really like. There are nuns in it, and Marlene Dietrich." When I eventually saw the film, her words were proved to be true. The Garden of Allah is a haunting film, subtle yet ravishing in primitive Technicolor. The idea of sultry Marlene Dietrich portraying a pious spinster may seem too far-fetched at first. Marlene pulled it off admirably, perhaps because she had a certain singularity about her, and such a deep reserve, in spite of her image. Charles Boyer is always excellent when depicting a tormented soul.
The 1936 film was based upon a forgotten novel, popular in its time. The heroine Domini, played by Marlene, is on the verge of a breakdown following many years of caring for her invalid father, who has died. She returns to the convent where she was educated, seeking guidance. The Mother Superior advises her to make a pilgrimage into the desert. Garbed in what can only be described as Dior desert chic, Domini ventures into the Sahara, which is called "The Garden of Allah" by the Bedouins. There she meets the Boyer character, whom she thinks is merely a neurotic Russian ex-patriot with a major grudge against the Catholic Church. In spite of his weirdness, or maybe because of it, she is drawn to him.
In The Garden of Allah the desert setting plays as much a part as any of characters. It is the emptiness and the hazards of the desert which bring the various persons into confrontation with each other, and with their inner selves. The redemptive side of the love of a man and a woman is strongly highlighted. In The Garden of Allah it is the woman who must encourage the man towards his true vocation, at great cost to herself. It is in the desert that love blossoms, but it is love made holy only by sacrifice. Share