skip navigation
The Garden of Allah

The Garden of Allah(1936)

TCM Messageboards
Post your comments here

Remind Me

TCMDb Archive MaterialsView all archives (0)


powered by AFI

A July 1936 Hollywood Reporter news item notes that United Artists postponed this film's release to late October in order to give David O. Selznick time to "match up" all Technicolor prints. Numerous sources credit both Anson Stevenson and Hal Kern as the film's editors, although only Kern is listed on the film. Two contemporary sources credit Edward Boyle with settings in addition to Sturges Carne and Lyle Wheeler, while one source lists Wheeler and Boyle as Carne's associates. Motion Picture Herald reports that Lynn Riggs was engaged for additional dialogue, although she receives screenplay credit on the film. The film was shot in a desert camp twenty-three miles outside Yuma, AZ, the same site that Twentieth Century-Fox used for Under Two Flags (see below). According to a contemporary source, the film staff and company was so large, it used short-wave radios to communicate between the film unit and the studio. As reported in Time, this film took six months to make and cost more than two million dollars. The Garden of Allah was the last film completed by director Richard Boleslawski, who died of a heart attack on January 17, 1937 while working on The Last of Mrs. Cheyney, an M-G-M film.
       According to files in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, Selznick wanted to cast Greta Garbo in the lead for this film, but was unable to finish the script within the time limitation of her contract. On February 7, 1935, Selznick wrote to Joseph I. Breen, Director of the Studio Relations Office of the AMPP, conveying his apprehension concerning the possible public reaction to the film's story. Selznick asked if a monk is allowed to return to the church under the tenets of Catholic doctrine and if Hichens' novel had been banned by the church. Selznick hoped Breen would respond quickly, as he hoped to cast Joan Crawford in the role and had "little time" in which to do so. Breen responded on 9 February that he believed the story presented no difficulty as Hichens wrote it. He also reported that he had sent queries to three leading Catholic churchmen for criticism. Reverend Edward S. Schwegler, Chairman of the Board for the Legion of Decency in the Diocese of Buffalo, warned Breen that the "theme of fallen monk will be offensive to Catholics," while another was "entirely against proposed adaptation"; a third asked whether the monk could become a priest only at the end of the film. Schwegler wrote to Breen again on 11 Feb, after reading Hichens' novel, stating the following: "The idea of a priest, a monk, having intimate carnal relations with a woman just grates against the grain....You and I know that such sort of relationships have existed and do exist; we know that in the past priests have married and had concubines almost with impunity;...but all that does not alter the fact that here, to the ordinary, simple Catholic, the thought of a priest having carnal relations with a woman is sacrilegious." Schwegler also objected to the "barbarically sensual" dance scene [featuring Irena] in the book. On 18 Feb, Breen reported to Selznick that, according to four clergymen, a fallen monk would be accepted back into the church, probably with penance; that to their knowledge, the book had not been banned; and that the story was acceptable, but was likely to give offense to the Catholic laity. By April 30, 1936, Dietrich had been cast in the film. Throughout shooting, Selznick was in touch with Breen. On 9 Jun, Breen wrote to Selznick "in confidence, informally," that a priest had objected to the speech "in which Boris thanks God for having loved Domini-as if he is thanking God for sin." Breen asked Selznick to change the speech only if it did not detract from the story, in order to "free me of [the priest's] wrath." The speech, as it appeared in the viewed print, read: "I was born perhaps to serve God. I dare to believe that I was born to know your beauty, your tenderness....I have begged God in His mercy to forgive me for having loved you. For in knowing your love, I have known him." On April 15, 1937, the film was banned in Italy "on moral and spiritual grounds"..."the whole description of the film is objectionable." On May 4, 1937, Frederick L. Herron, Treasurer of the MPPDA, wrote to Arthur W. Kelly, a United Artists executive, regarding the banning of The Garden of Allah by the Vatican. Mario Luporini, of the Artisti Associati in Rome, wrote to George Archibald, joint managing director of UA's London office, that the Vatican authorities consider American Catholics and other Catholics outside of Italy as "too broadminded!" According to a letter dated August 31, 1937 from Fred M. E. Mueller, in charge of United Artists' Italian branch, to UA executive Harold Smith, the film had been entirely rewritten, abolishing all monastery scenes and all references to Boris' monastic life, but, currently, censors were rejecting it for "artistic reasons."
       Although contemporary sources reported in late March 1936 that Merle Oberon had turned down the lead in this film in favor of the lead in Dark Victory [which eventually was made by Warner Bros. starring Bette Davis], on 15 Apr, it was announced that she had filed suit the previous day against Selznick International for $125,333 for breach of contract. Oberon claimed that Selznick had offered her the lead in a film based on the life of Florence Nightingale, but when the project was cancelled, The Garden of Allah was proposed, for which Oberon was to receive the same salary offered to her for the Nightingale story. Oberon alleged that she reported for duty on the Allah production, but was not assigned the leading role. Because of the continued unavailability of Dietrich as a witness and Oberon herself, the trial was again set for March 11, 1940, at which point Oberon dismissed the case.
       Max Steiner was nominated for a 1936 Academy Award for Best Score and Eric Stacey was nominated for Assistant Director. According to a news item in the New York Times, the film was not nominated for Best Picture because it was believed its natural effects would "outpoint the conventional product." Members of the Academy, therefore, granted W. Harold Greene and Harold Rosson a special award for color cinematography. On November 30, 1936, a Time cover story called this film the "best example of color photography the cinema has so far contrived." Daily Variety reported that under the designing in tint by Lansing C. Holden and supervision by Natalie Kalmus, Techicolor had gone "into refinements and effects heretofore never achieved." In interview quoted in a modern source, cinematographer James Wong Howe says that he had done tests for Dietrich for this film and would have shot it had he not been committed to another film. Howe also says that Dietrich had a full-length mirror alongside her at all times while filming to judge the light, and would tell Howe what she wanted accordingly.
       According to a news item in the New York Times, this film's sets were burned as part of the burning of Atlanta in Gone with the Wind. The New York Times also reported that when Dietrich went on vacation after filming The Garden of Allah, her double, whose last name according to the New York Times was also Dietrich but whose first name has not been determined, was used in retakes of long shots. According to a contemporary source, Dietrich and Carole Lombard fought over the use of still photographer Don English of Paramount. Dietrich wanted him for The Garden of Allah, and Lombard for My Man Godfrey at Universal. A $100,000 exploitation campaign launched for the film featured an international one-hundred-word essay contest that offered a free trip to Egypt, and a transcontinental advance tour of a honeymoon tent truck. UA also sponsored a contest among theater owners, offering a 39-day trip to the Mediterranean for the best exploitation campaign. On March 12, 1937, Hollywood Reporter states that Mildred Ray Stancliff of Los Angeles, the winner, out of 1,500 contestants, of the essay contest, left on March 10, 1937 for the last leg of her trip to North Africa. According to his autobiography, Joshua Logan worked as dialogue director on this film, although a news item in Hollywood Reporter on April 13, 1936 states that Logan, a Broadway stage director at the time, was being groomed by Selznick as a screen director and was assigned as an observer on the Garden of Allah set.
       This film marked Tilly Losch's screen debut. The New York Times refers to Losch's character as "Ouled-Nal girl," an Arab prostitute and dancing girl of North African cities. Several reviews mention Losch's alluring dance sequence, and Motion Picture Herald states it is "so outside the bounds of decency and Code Regulations that sharp cutting is in order." Daily Variety said, "Tilly Losch provides the most colorful and arresting scene in the picture when she dances the abandoned temptation to Boyer in the desert inn. The dance is the most erotic and at the same time fascinatingly artistic thing of this kind the screen has seen, and the emotional quality of the intimate play between the nautch terper and the runaway monk is of intense pitch." Alberta censor boards required the shortening of Losch's "voluptuous muscle dance," while Ohio censors insisted on the elimination of all of Losch's "sinking down and coming up and moving her stomach." For the 1927 M-G-M version of The Garden of Allah, local censor boards also objected to the women dancing seductively before men, particularly the shots of them moving their abdomens. The 1927 film was directed by Rex Ingram and starred Alice Terry and Ivan Petrovich (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.2015). According to Hollywood Reporter, Ingram and Terry stood across the street from Graumann's Chinese Theatre as crowds left the 1936 film's preview. Selig Polyscope also produced a version in 1916, directed by Colin Campbell and starring Helen Ware and Thomas Santschi (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20; F1.1520). Selznick's version was re-issued in 1945.