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DESERT FURY (aka: DESERT TOWN) (director: Lewis Allen; screenwriters: Robert Rossen/from the novel by Ramona Stewart serialized in Colliers Magazine; cinematographers: Charles Lang/ Edward Cronjager; editor: Warren Low; music: Miklós Rózsa; cast: John Hodiak (Eddie Bendix), Lizabeth Scott (Paula Haller), Burt Lancaster (Tom Hanson), Wendell Corey (Johnny Ryan), Mary Astor (Fritzie Haller), Ray Teal (Bus Driver), William Harrigan (Judge Berle Lindquist), Kristine Miller (Claire Lindquist), Jane Novak (Mrs. Lindquist), James Flavin (Pat Johnson—Sheriff); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: ; Paramount; 1947)
“Mordant film noir, shot in a snazzy Technicolor.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Underrated studio director Lewis Allen(“Suddenly”/”The Uninvited”/”Illegal”) films this mordant film noir, shot in a snazzy Technicolor. It’s written by Robert Rossen, who based it on Ramona Stewart‘s serialized articles in Colliers Magazine.The melodramatics are overwrought and the romance story absurd and the casting of the husky voiced Liz Scott as a teenager is not credible, but Wendell Corey and Mary Astor thriveas supporting characters to provide an oasis for a film that lost its way in the desert.

Inthe small desert town of Chuckawalla, Nevada, outside Reno, big-time LA racketeers Eddie Bendix (John Hodiak) and Johnny Ryan (Wendell Corey) return to their former gambling location for the first time since Eddie’s wife died in a supposed accident a few years ago when her car went over the local bridge. Eddie’s latest racket has him involved in Las Vegas, but he has come here to think things over as things have seemingly gone wrong there. Meanwhile the 19-year-old Paula Haller (Lizabeth Scott, 24 at the time), the rebellious daughter of Fritzie (Mary Astor), the widowed owner of the biggest local casino, The Purple Sage, has been booted out of her fifth boarding school and returns to live with her pushy mom. Fritzie runs the town, as the milquetoast judge (William Harrigan) and political-minded sheriff Pat Johnson (James Flavin) are bought men. Mom is unhappy that the respectable townies have not accepted her, and wants to keep her foolish daughter from following in her footsteps so she can have a better life. The hard-assed New Jersey transplant was a former bootlegger with her hubby, and has lived here for ten years or ever since the mob bumped off her hubby and she had to move west for health reasons.

The only really good person in town is the straight-arrow athletic deputy, Tom Hanson (Burt Lancaster), a transplanted Texas champion rodeo rider, who can’t ride the rodeo circuit any more because of a severe injury from a horse fall.

When Fritzie sees her daughter falling for the cheap gangster Bendix, she makes Tom an offer that if he marries Paula she’ll buy him the ranch he always wanted. Tom reveals this proposition to Paula, who freaks out that her mom is trying to run her life and rushes foolishly into the arms of the big-talking nasty tough guy Bendix.

The story is such a bummer that the pic really doesn’t stand much of chance, and its contrived happy ending seems a travesty. That it succeeds somewhat is only because Astor and Corey both give fascinating crazed hyper performance as pervs. Lancaster is a fine presence, but is not asked to do much in his hero role except show us that a real man is brave and honest and treats women decently. Hodiak is the weakest link in the pic, who portrays a neurotic and always angry racketeer in a one-dimensional emotional tone and maybe he’s so screwed-up because he’s hiding his homosexual relationship with the Corey character. But the Hodiak character has the film’s snappiest one-liner–telling his nagging nursemaid mentor Johnny that he always keeps the blinds drawn in his room because “I like the sunlight in its place, outside.”


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”