The Way of the Lancer

Richard Boleslawski

  • Marlene Dietrich
  • Cyndi Lauper
  • Lee Strasberg

The strength of American cinematography has always stemmed from its ability to use the most modern technologies in film-making. Certainly, one of these breakthrough technologies was color film. The Garden of Allah (1936), an adventure drama romance starring Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992) and Charles Boyer, was the first film to receive a special Oscar for advances in color cinematography. Much of the film is set in the North American desert.

It was one of the first feature films to be photographed in ‘Three-strip Technicolor’. The Garden of Allah found renewed fame in US popular culture because it is watched by Cyndi Lauper at the beginning of her music video for Time after Time, a song from her 1983 album She’s So Unusual. It was the first debut album by a female artist to achieve four top-five hits on the Billboard Hot 100. One of these songs was Time after Time. The song has been selected as one of the Best Love Songs of All Time.

Marlene Dietrich, Hollywood Walk of Fame, Source: Shutterstock

The Garden of Allah was directed by Richard Boleslawski (1889-1937), a theatre and film director, actor, and teacher of acting. He was born Bolesław Ryszard Srzednicki in Mohyliv-Podilskyi, Podolia, present-day Ukraine, into a Polish noble family. Boleslawski studied at the University of Odessa, Ukraine where he started his acting career in amateur theatres. He trained as a professional actor at the Moscow Art Theatre under Konstantin Stanislavski, a legendary Russian theatre practitioner. His principal fame and influence rested on his ‘system’ of actor training. During the First World War, Boleslawski fought as a lieutenant in the Tsarist Russian cavalry until the fall of the empire. He escaped from Russia after the October Revolution of 1917 to Poland, where he fought in the Polish army against the Bolsheviks in the Eastern lands of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Boleslawski enlisted in a renowned Polish light cavalry unit armed with lances, whose soldiers were known as ‘uhlans’. Their name derives from the Turkic languages and means literally ‘a young man’. During the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, ‘Uhlan’ was the surname of a Lithuanian Tatar noble family whose male members regularly served as light cavalrymen for the Lithuanian grand dukes and Polish kings. In the 1930s in the US he published two books about his military service: The Way of the Lancer and Lances Down.

Ignacy Zygmuntowicz, Standard-bearer on horseback
Ignacy Zygmuntowicz, Standard-bearer on horseback, Source: Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie

In 1921 he directed Miracle at the Vistula, a semi-documentary about the victory of the Poles at the Vistula River over the Bolshevik Russian army in 1920. In 1922, he made his way to New York City, where he began to teach Stanislavski’s ‘system’. He founded the American Laboratory Theatre in New York. Among his students was Lee Strasberg (1901-1982), a prominent Jewish-American actor from Eastern Galicia who was co-founder of the Group Theatre, the first American acting ensemble to utilize Stanislavski’s techniques. For his contributions to the motion picture industry, Richard Boleslawski was rewarded with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.