|Directed by||Lewis Allen|
Fritzi Haller (Mary Astor) is the tough owner of a saloon and casino in the small fictional mining town of Chuckawalla, Nevada. Her daughter, Paula Haller (Lizabeth Scott), has just quit school and returned home at the same time that gangster Eddie Bendix (John Hodiak) has returned. He was once involved with Fritzi, but left town under suspicion of murdering his wife.
Paula falls for Bendix and they become involved. Paula’s old boyfriend, and local lawman, Tom Hanson (Burt Lancaster), along with Bendix’s sidekick, Johnny Ryan (Wendell Corey), try to break up the relationship. When Fritzi finds out, she angrily tries to protect Paula and put a stop to her seeing Bendix.
Bendix’s past catches up with him in an unexpected way when the car he is in, running from Hanson (who wants to rid the town of the likes of Bendix and Ryan), crashes through the railing as it is going onto the bridge and plunges down the embankment, killing him.
When the film was released, The New York Times roundly despised it. They wrote, “Desert Fury is a beaut – a beaut of a Technicolored mistake from beginning to end. If this costly Western in modern dress had been made by a lesser producer than Hal Wallis it could be dismissed in a sentence. But Mr. Wallis is a man with a considerable reputation, being a two-time winner of the Irving Thalberg Award of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and Desert Fury is such an incredibly bad picture in all respects save one, and that is photographically.”
In later years the film has been praised as a seminal and unique Hollywood melodrama due to its bold overtones of homosexuality:
Film scholar Foster Hirsch wrote, “In a truly subversive move the film jettisons the characters’ criminal activities to concentrate on two homosexual couples: the mannish mother who treats her daughter like a lover, and the gangster and his devoted possessive sidekick. (…) Desert Fury is shot in the lurid, over-saturated colors that would come to define the 1950s melodramas of Douglas Sirk.”
Film noir expert Eddie Muller wrote, “Desert Fury is the gayest movie ever produced in Hollywood’s golden era. The film is saturated – with incredibly lush color, fast and furious dialogue dripping with innuendo, double entendres, dark secrets, outraged face-slappings, overwrought Miklos Rosza violins. How has this film escaped revival or cult status? It’s Hollywood at its most gloriously berserk.
Lots of fury and lots of Technicolor in early film noir…
Probably the most distinguished feature of DESERT FURY is the spectacular Technicolor Paramount lavished on it, a story of personal conflicts among Nevada’s gambling set. Another distinguished feature is MARY ASTOR as Fritzi, a hard-boiled dame who runs a gambling establishment and keeps a tight leash on her willful daughter (LIZABETH SCOTT). Scott is strikingly photographed and reminded me of a more animated version of Veronica Lake.
But complications arise when two men pay too much attention to Astor’s daughter–JOHN HODIAK (a no good hunk who may or may not have murdered his wife) and BURT LANCASTER as a wary police officer who keeps Lizabeth Scott on his radar at all times.
It’s fun as melodrama, nothing more or less, and at times achieves something of a camp classic with Astor’s butch performance as she effortlessly steals the film’s acting honors. Take it or leave it, it’s all in good, steamy fun with lots of fury going on under those hot Technicolor lights.
Lizabeth Scott’s lips and Burt Lancaster’s hair along with the stunning California desert are among the highlights of this classic “Technicolor” film noir.
Author: brisky from Glendale, CA
14 April 1999
This is one of the only examples of film noir in color. Burt Lancaster and luscious Lizabeth Scott headline a stellar cast in this twisted romance/thriller. John Hodiak and Wendell Corey’s “special” is sorely tested when Hodiak falls hard for bombshell Scott. Scott’s mother Fritzi (played by hard as nails Mary Astor) tries to protect her “baby” from falling into the wrong hands (namely Hodiak’s) while good guy Lancaster valiantly attempts to rid the town of no-goodniks like Hodiak, Corey and sometimes Astor. It’s a two-fisted Technicolor knockout of a film and a classic example of late 40’s “adult” fare. See it with somebody you lust after.