Monday, April 22, 2019

Desert Fury (1947)

Desert Fury poster

"I'm a big girl now. I'm allowed to play with matches."

Director Lewis Allen's Desert Fury (1947) stars Lizabeth Scott as Paula Haller, the daughter of a wealthy gambling magnate, Fritzi Haller (Mary Astor), who returns home to the fictional town of Chuckawalla, Nevada. Paula brings home with her a defiant spirit and a determination to live her life by her own rules. Mother and daughter have a complicated relationship. Fritzi has a strange fixation on Paula which leads to her to want to control every aspect of her daughter's life, including her romantic attachments. But Paula rebels. As Paula crosses the bridge back to Chuckawalla, two men come into her life. First there's the straight-laced and responsible Tom Hanson (Burt Lancaster), who left behind a career in rodeo for the sake of his health and now works as a deputy sheriff. He's the safe bet. Then there's the mysterious Eddie Bendix (John Hodiak), the racketeer who travels the country with his partner Johnny Ryan (Wendell Corey) looking for their next money making scheme. Eddie's got some serious baggage. He's been kicked out of Vegas, his wife died under mysterious circumstances and he's got a contentious history with Fritzi. Eddie's all wrong for Paula but she wants him. Will Paula make the wise decision or will she make the wrong one?

Based on the novel Desert Town by Ramona Stewart, Desert Fury was produced by Hal Wallis for Paramount and adapted to the screen by Robert Rossen. It was filmed in Cottonwood and Sedona, AZ, Palmdale, CA and Paramount studios. The film makes great use of Technicolor with the beautiful scenic shots, the gorgeous Edith Head costumes and fantastic sets. Adding to the dramatic atmosphere in the film is a score by Miklos Rozsa.

The film features fresh young faces. It's Wendell Corey's film debut, Lizabeth Scott's fourth film and it was intended to be Burt Lancaster's debut but he made two films prior to this one, including his notable debut in The Killers (1946). According to Hal Wallis biographer Bernard F. Dick , "Lancaster truly despised [the film] along with the critics and the public." Wallis and Lancaster had a 'contentious working relationship" and "Lancaster wanted to break his contract with Wallis, but he stayed on with the understanding that he be allowed at least two outside pictures a year."

Desert Fury is delightful melodramatic confection. It's not a good film by any means but boy is it enjoyable. It's worth watching alone for the fantastic cast and the envy-inducing wardrobe worn by Lizabeth Scott and Mary Astor. Scott, Hodiak, Astor, Lancaster all play to their strengths and Corey is superb as the reserved bad guy.

There's a strong sexual subtext with Johnny and Eddie's relationship mirroring that of a married couple. The two are inseparable and Paula poses a real threat to their partnership. Johnny refers to himself as Eddie's nursemaid and when Eddie recounts to Paula how he met Johnny he says, "I went home with that night... we were together from then on." The relationship between Paula and her mom Fritzi is fraught with tension. Fritzi's a bit too fixated on her daughter and Paula refers to her mom by her first name. There is a strong theme of the delineation between present and past lives and the bridge featured in the film almost becomes another character as it functions not only as a meeting point and passage way but also becomes a place where tragedy occurs.

For years Desert Fury was locked up in the Paramount-Universal distribution jail. It is now available on Blu-ray and DVD for the very first time (at least in North America!).




Desert Fury (1947) is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. When you use my buy links you help support this site. Thanks!

The Blu-Ray includes audio commentary by Imogen Sara Smith, subtitles and trailers of other Kino Lorber releases.

Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me a copy of Desert Fury (1947) for review.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Forbidden Hollywood by Mark A. Vieira

Forbidden Hollywood
The Pre-Code Era (1930-1934)
When Sin Ruled the Movies
by Mark A. Vieira
TCM and Running Press
Hardcover ISBN: 9780762466771
April 2019
252 pages

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"Pre-Code refers to the four-year period before the Production Code was strengthened and enforced. There had been a Code since 1930, but the studios negotiated with it, bypassed it, or just plain ignored it." - Mark A. Vieira

For true classic movie fans, it's not enough to just watch our favorite films. We need to extend the experience. We watch, research, learn, share, repeat. We relish the details. One of the reasons I love classic film books is that they provide me with context on why these films were made. They help me understand how movies were influenced by politics, culture, social mores, industry trends and the lives and careers of the key players involved.

Mark A. Vieira's new book Forbidden Hollywood does just that for the Pre-Code era. It provides the context needed to fully appreciate what made 1930-1934 a unique period in film history. Movies were an increasingly popular form of entertainment and with the threat of government regulation looming over them, Hollywood decided to self-regulate. But during the Great Depression, stakes were high and a power struggle ensued between the studios and the censors. Who were the people on both sides of the table? First who have the studio execs, the directors, the producers, the writers who were all trying to circumnavigate the system, one they had originally agreed upon but prevented them from producing the scandalous movies that Depression era audiences would put their hard earned money towards. On the other side you have the censors, Will Hays, Joseph Breen, the MPPDA, the SRC and countless state regulators who were fighting a losing battle. When the censors finally put their foot down and the production Code was finally enforced the way it was intended to be, the Pre-Code era was officially over.

Forbidden Hollywood is the ideal film book. It's the perfect marriage of information and entertainment. The text focuses on the people behind-the-scenes and the beautiful photographs showcase those in front of the camera. This coffee table style book is compact enough to read comfortably but large enough to be displayed in all its glory. The text starts with an introduction from the author and a section devoted to the 1920s, which set the stage for what was to come. Then each section is a year-by-year analysis, breaking down the escalating factors that made Hollywood filmmakers bolder and the censors weaker. Within each section are chapters based on themes that help readers tie the threads together of what exactly what was going on in the Pre-Code era. And for anyone whose studied this era, it's not an easy one to follow which makes Vieira's direction all that more helpful.


Source: Running Press

Source: Running Press

Source: Running Press


Some of the films discussed include:
Little Caesar (1931)
The Public Enemy (1931)
A Free Soul (1931)
Mata Hari (1931)
The Easiest Way (1931)
Possessed (1931)
Cock of the Air (1932)
Scarface (1932)
Red Headed Woman (1932)
Grand Hotel (1932)
The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)
Freaks (1932)
Call Her Savage (1932)
Sign of the Cross (1932)
Island of Lost Souls (1932)
So This Is Africa (1933)
She Done Him Wrong (1933)
42nd Street (1933)
Gold Diggers of 1933
Footlight Parade (1933)
Baby Face (1933)
Tarzan and His Mate (1934)
and more

If you want to know more about how the book is structured, what it looks like inside and more, check out my video review of the book below!




Stay tuned as I have an interview with Mark A. Vieira coming up soon on the TCM website and Tumblr!

Thank you to Running Press for a review copy of this book!

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Cinema Shame: American Gigolo (1980)



My 2019 Cinema Shame challenge got off to an auspicious start. Seven days into the year not only had I posted my challenge but I had also already seen two of the movies on my list. Then months passed, I never reviewed those films and now I find myself mid-April having to start all over again. But no sweat. Let's begin from the beginning.

My challenge for this year is to watch 10 films from my birth year 1980. These are films I've never seen before (hence "Cinema Shame").  I kick off the challenge anew with American Gigolo (1980). 

Written and directed by Paul Schrader, American Gigolo stars Richard Gere as Julian Kaye, a handsome gigolo whose clientele mostly consists of the wealthy elite of Beverly Hills. With the help of his madame/boss Anne (Nina van Pallandt), he plays both escort and sex therapist to older rich ladies. Julian, or "Julie" as some call him, is very devoted to his job. He wears Armani suits, drives a Mercedes Benz (a 450 SL R107), speaks multiple languages and knows how to navigate the social scene. One day he meets Michelle (Lauren Hutton), the wife of Senator Stratton (Brian Davies). The two have a wild love affair. In the midst of it all, Julian gets a secret side gig from his shady pimp friend Leon (Bill Duke) who sets Julian up with a couple. Weeks later the wife from that gig has been found brutally murdered and detective Sunday (Hector Elizondo) is on the case. All fingers point to Julian who is clearly innocent. He's been set-up. But by who? And why?

"Legal is not always right. Men make laws. Sometimes they're wrong." - Julian Kaye





American Gigolo was filmed in early 1979 and released February 1980. Something I love about the 1970s and the early 1980s is Hollywood's newfound comfort with on-screen sexuality. We lose that later on and to this day people are more put off by sex in film than they are violence which, in my opinion, is an utter shame. I love how Julian Kaye enjoys his work and takes pride in offering quality service to the women who hire him. In one scene he discusses working for three hours with a client to achieve a particular goal that had previously seemed impossible. The portrayal of gender dynamics in the film was perhaps what drew me in the most. Julian's boss is a woman, his most trusted allies are women and any toxic relationships in his life all come from men. 

It's not a perfect film but I enjoyed American Gigolo  not only for the portrayal of sexuality (which at times was still a bit corny but hey its 1979/1980) and the exploration of gender roles but also for the crime drama aspect. Julian Kaye is solving a murder mystery while simultaneously trying to clear his name without revealing his own illegal activities. Richard Gere is charming as the debonair yet reserved gigolo and he's worth the price of admission alone. I had never seen Lauren Hutton in a film. I remember growing up in the 1990s, the age of the supermodel, and Hutton was still highly revered as one of the greats. 

Have you seen American Gigolo? If so, what did you think?

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