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.

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