Garden of Allah, The (1936): Oscar-Winning Film, Starring Marlene Dietrich and Charles Boyer

UA (Selznick International Pictures)

After making a series of movies with Josef von Sternberg, Marlene Dietrich was aksed by Richard Boleslawski to star in “The Garden of Allah,” the third film version of Robert Hichens’ 1904 novel.

The book had been adapted to the screen twice before as a silent picture, but this was the best known version.

Dietrich, perhaps at her most beautiful and sensual, plays the noble Domini Enfilden who, after caring for her dying father, is told by her Mother Superior (Lucille Watson) that she should go to the Algerian desert to rest and seek sanctuary.

On her way to the town of Beni-Mora, Domini meets the ill-tempered and mysterious Boris Androvsky (Charles Boyer), a Trappist monk who has forsaken his vows, now seeking the Algerian desert for his own salvation.

Domini is attracted to this moody monk, but continues on. Her desert guide, Batouch (Joseph Schildkraut), takes Domini to a cabaret, where a riot breaks out during a production number.

Boris then reappears to rescue her from the trashed club. Domini and Boris fall in love, marry, and travel to the desert for their honeymoon.

But the newlyweds encounter a unit of the French Foreign Legion, whose commander, De Trevignac (Alan Marshal), holds a secret to Boris’s past.

The plot is preposterous and several scenes feel unintentionally like high-camp.  For strange reason, there is no strong rapport between Dietrich and Charles Boyer, and both stars give lukewarm performances in an incoherent tale that seldom finds its right tone.

Even so, the film is known for its experimentation with three-color Technicolor, funded by Selznick’s financial backer, Jock Whitney (who owned stock in Technicolor).

Howard Greene has been experimenting with color since “Ben-Hur,” in 1925, which had a two-color sequence.


Oscar Nominations: 2

Assistant Director: Eric G. Stacey

Score: Max Steiner


Oscar Awards: 1

Special Award for W. Howard Greene and Harold Rosson for Color Cinematography


Oscar Context:

The winner of the Assistant Director Oscar was Jack Sullivan for “The Charge of the Light Brigade.”

The Scoring Oscar went to Erich Wolfgang Korngold for the historical adventure, “Anthony Adverse.”


Running time: 85 Minutes

Directed by Richard Boleslawski

Written by W.P. Lipscomb, Lynn Riggs