DESERT PURSUIT was filmed the year before Morris and Grey costarred in THE FIGHTING LAWMAN (1953), and it's much the better of the two films.
Morris plays Ford Smith, a successful gold prospector headed toward San Bernardino, where he plans to cash in his gold and buy a ranch. He's accompanied by Mary Smith (Grey), a former blackjack dealer from Carson City who had stumbled into Ford's camp on her way home to San Bernardino.
Unfortunately three "bad men from Bodie" are on Smith's trail, as his friend (Emmett Lynn) blabbed about the gold when he was drinking. The trio of bad guys (George Tobias, Anthony Caruso, and John Doucette) hoping to steal the gold have an advantage over Ford and Mary as they travel through the desert -- they're riding camels!
This was a pleasant little Western, especially if you're not expecting much going in. There's some nice chemistry between Morris and Grey. Having known Ford's sweetheart back in San Bernardino, Mary has to break the news to him that the girl married someone else, but Ford's not sad for long, with someone like Mary around. They're cute together joking about her being his squaw when they're in the Indian camp.
Besides the actors and the unique "Christmas and camels" theme, the biggest plus for me was that virtually the entire movie was filmed in Lone Pine's Alabama Hills, with the Olancha Sand Dunes standing in for Death Valley. William A. Sickner filmed every shot in this black and white movie in the great outdoors, and I enjoyed trying to recognize various rock groupings from my trips to Lone Pine. This film would be a great candidate for a locations tour at a future Lone Pine Film Festival! (November 2016 Update: Here's my post on this fall's locations tour of DESERT PURSUIT!)
Virginia Grey was interviewed by Mike Fitzgerald, shared at the Western Clippings site. She remembered that when they filmed DESERT PURSUIT "the weather wasn't too bad," and she was relieved they didn't shoot the desert scenes in Death Valley. Grey said of Morris and Lone Pine: "Even though we stayed on location, I didn’t get to know him. We were too tired, and too dirty (Laughs) to socialize in the evening. Besides that, I don’t recall there being any place to even go at the time. It surely has grown some, but in those days, there was literally nothing there. So, the cast would take a shower, jump into bed (separate beds, of course) (Laughs), grab their script, and study their lines for the next day’s shoot.”
The script of this 71-minute film was by Scott Darling, from a novel by Kenneth Perkins.
The camel theme was familiar to me from an early MAVERICK episode, "Relic of Fort Tejon" (1957). I checked and sure enough, the MAVERICK episode was also based on a story by Kenneth Perkins. He must have specialized in writing about camels in the Old West!
DESERT PURSUIT was one of a quartet of Wayne Morris films released this month by the Warner Archive. Last weekend I reviewed Morris in ARCTIC FLIGHT (1952). Coming soon, reviews of Morris in two more Westerns, SIERRA PASSAGE (1950) and THE DESPERADO (1954).
The Warner Archive has presented DESERT PURSUIT in a lovely print. There are no extras.
Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.