Friday, February 19, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Desert Pursuit (1952) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Wayne Morris and Virginia Grey star in DESERT PURSUIT (1952), just released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

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!

Ford and Mary manage to protect the gold while fending off the bad men. Matters come to a head when Ford and Mary stumble into an Indian camp on Christmas Eve; the Christian Indians are stunned by the "three wise men" who show up on their camels shortly thereafter.

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.”

DESERT PURSUIT was directed by George Blair.

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.


Blogger john k said...

Ha, My Wayne Morris quartet arrived this morning and I cannot wait to dive into 'em.
I have resisted reading the review,and I know you don't do spoilers,but I want
to approach the film totally fresh,though I loved the Virginia Grey quote.
I will compare notes Monday when I've seen the film.
I have previewed each disc and the picture quality looks excellent. I also loved
the graphics on the discs themselves-very appealing.
There are no trailers and THE DESPERADO looks sensational in widescreen.
For a B Movie director George Blair made few Westerns. I have never known anyone
fight his corner apart from Mark at Where Danger Lives who rates him rather highly.
Oddly enough Mark was not too keen on Blair's WOMAN FROM HEADQUARTERS which I
loved.I certainly hope to check out other Blair films,over time as most of his
films I have never seen.
Our friend Blake made a very interesting comment over at Toby's as to whether these
Morris films can really be considered as B Series Westerns. A very interesting point
as THE DESPERADO and SIERRA PASSAGE clock in at 80 minutes-the average length of
a Universal Technicolor Western starring Joel McCrea,Audie Murphy,Rory Calhoun
or Jock Mahoney.They of course are not B Westerns-call 'em programmers or
dual billers if you like.Furthermore according to Robert Nott's brilliantly researched
book Last Of The Cowboy Heroes Kurt Neumann's THE KID FROM TEXAS cost $750,000
to make,hardly a B Movie budget.TWO GUNS AND A BADGE is generally considered the last
B Series Western and Blake makes a very interesting point if this really is the case.
I await the other four Morris films from The Archive (including the non Western
YELLOW FIN) with anticipation.The high quality of the transfers and the artwork
make these releases very appealing.

7:58 AM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

Glad your Wayne Morris films have arrived now, John - a happy bunny once more!

I only know George Blair as director of three of Rex Allen's earliest, and best, series westerns though he had a pretty busy career subsequently on TV.

10:49 AM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

Re, John's comment about an earlier comment I made, it wasn't about the whole series of Wayne Morris Westerns, only about the next to last THE DESPERADO which I saw theatrically when it came out and would not have been something I would have felt to be a series Western, even if I wasn't thinking about this kind of thing back then--but I have seen it again since as well as the AA remake in 'Scope and color, COLE YOUNGER, GUNFIGHTER and just feels like a B movie/programmer, as John says, not so different except for black and white than Universal color ones--McCrea, Murphy, Calhoun or Mahoney always played in serious Westerns of individual character--not even remotely my idea of series pictures--and the stars play complex characters who are all different. I guess my idea of a series Western is where the star always plays some variation of the same role.

THE DESPERADO is not like that at all--and that's in addition to it being 80 minutes. The other Wayne Morris ones for AA, which I believe is the series, with Lewis Collins and Thomas Carr (who did THE DESPERADO) alternating as directors over six movies, are ones I still have to say except for THE MARKSMAN which I have only a vague memory of now--but I observe all of the others are much shorter than THE DESPERADO. I'd certainly like to see them, and given TWO GUNS AND A BADGE having
that reputation as the last series Western have long had it on my list so will see if it plays that way for me, but I'm guessing that it won't. Somehow I believe in a real way those days were over. And it's not that series Westerns could not have a lot going for them. Tim Holt was terrific and those are quality movies, just to name the obvious example--but they do seem cut to a pattern in comparison to most 50s Westerns.

Laura has not been overwhelmed by the talent of Wayne Morris. Though it's not a deep argument for me when she says that he's "uncharismatic" personally I like him as an actor, feel he can hold his own including as a lead in Westerns. He doesn't cut out a deep place in cinema I guess, but sadly, he was pretty young when he died.

11:01 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

John, that's great your Morris films arrived! I'm looking forward to your feedback.

I'll be reviewing THE DESPERADO and SIERRA PASSAGE in the coming weeks. Lots of Wayne Morris here right now!

Just read a review of WOMEN FROM HEADQUARTERS by Mark at Where Danger Lives and I'm intrigued.

Jerry, I checked and I see that I have a couple of the Rex Allen films directed by George Blair. Thanks for the tip.

Blake, always good to hear from you, thanks for sharing your thoughts on the Morris films. Looking forward to trying out more soon.

Best wishes,

12:49 PM  
Blogger john k said...

Oh Dear.......!
I was hoping this thread would still be current,but as always in Lauraland things
move at an incredibly fast clip.
I don't know how others feel but I think it would be wonderful if there were two
blogs...Laura Current (Disneyland,Festivals,TCM and present day films) and
Laura vintage totally dedicated to old movies. Then your wonderful reviews would be
more "organic" they would have more breathing space,and hopefully generate more
I am always amazed how Laura,and Kristina post things on a DAILY basis all this
while coping with demanding day jobs...."Superwomen" indeed!

5:50 AM  
Blogger john k said...

I was hoping to post my views on the Wayne Morris films here-partly out of cowardice,
as I am sure to upset some folks over at Toby's.Here I have only Jerry to worry about
...I think!
Anyway as the Morris thread is still the lead one over at Toby's I'm throwing
caution to the wind and braving the wrath of Toby's posse.
I might add that I loved DESERT PASSAGE and ARCTIC FLIGHT.

Laura, did I not send you WOMEN FROM HEADQUARTERS ?
I love films about female cops...more of that later.

Just as an add on to my KID FROM TEXAS comments above Mr Nott states in his very
fine book that the film cost $700,000 to make and broke box office records for
Universal.Audie was paid a mere $10,000 which obviously rose as his star did.
Why oh why has Universal not given this film a domestic release.
With the fortune Universal made at the box office last year we really should be
getting Universal Vault releases on a WEEKLY basis.

Saw another "lost" Universal film recently UNDERCOVER GIRL (1950) with Alexis Smith
and Scott Brady getting the goods on a big scale drugs syndicate.
Alexis is steelier than we are used to as a straight arrow cop who poses as a
"Chicago Floozie" and goes undercover.What I liked about this film is that "the
Mob" are not as easy to fool as in similar films.
The great Royal Dano plays a skid row low life called "The Moocher" known to friends
as "Mooch"
Very impressive supporting cast includes Richard Egan,Gerald Mohr,Gladys George
and Edmon Ryuan. The "off air" copy I sourced is less than stellar and a Vault
release would be most desirable.

Just as an add-on to previous stuff I've been talking about I might add that it's
great that Warner Archive have made available many of underrated Kurt Neumann's films
like BAD MEN OF TOMBSTONE (excellent) HIAWATHA (thought lost) and the just released

Now I'm off to Toby's...I'm wearing my flak jacket!

6:14 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi John!

Just visited 50 Westerns From the 50s, and anyone who would like to read your initial comments on the Wayne Morris Warner Archive releases can find them here.

It's interesting trying to balance covering everything I'd like to share with my readers -- and having a lively blog which encourages frequent return visits for new posts -- with a more leisurely pace which seems to encourage longer conversations on some posts. I've looked at alternatives such as the "newspaper front" page (such as at my friend Aurora's blog) with short snips of many posts visible simultaneously but there are drawbacks there too. In any event it's most enjoyable when the conversations grow -- Buck Jones got up to 20 comments so far!

In any event, it's a joy for me to have this site to share our enjoyment of "fun stuff"!

It's funny, John, WOMEN FROM HEADQUARTERS didn't sound familiar but your comment just prompted me to check and I do indeed have it thanks to you, yay! Have to bump that one up in the viewing, although Mark wasn't a big fan the plot intrigues me. UNDERCOVER GIRL sounds fun too. Have you seen Marsha Hunt in MARY RYAN, DETECTIVE? I find the "police woman" films of that era interesting.

Best wishes,

1:39 PM  
Blogger john k said...

Hi Laura,

Nope,I've never heard of MARY RYAN DETECTIVE,but as my friend is a huge Marsha Hunt
fan I'm pretty sure that he will have it.

BTW thanks for your endorsement of ABANDONED which I enjoyed it prompted me to
track down some more Joseph Newman "Noir" Caught up with 711 OCEAN DRIVE...Loved it!

Regarding my conversation over at Toby's regarding Lindsley Parsons I came across
an interesting interview with Lyn Thomas.(I've just ordered BLACK MIDNIGHT BTW)
Lyn found Boetticher difficult and egotistical but found Parsons sweet and adorable
a producer who never pressured anyone...very interesting.
I have met Budd,he was fine with me I might add,no sign of ego.
Lyn has some great B Movie creds...lost of Regalscope titles.

5:31 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

John, I think you and your friend will enjoy MARY RYAN! It's out on DVD from Sony if he doesn't have it already. I happened to see it with Marsha Hunt in attendance and afterwards she joked "Mary Ryan could do anything!"

So glad that ABANDONED led you to even more...I absolutely loved 711 OCEAN DRIVE. Sometimes I don't like the plotlines where the guy makes dumb choices but I thought it had such a compelling romantic streak running through it, plus fantastic location shooting in places like Gilmore Stadium, Palm Springs, and the Hoover Dam.

Just answered a comment about BLACK MIDNIGHT over at Toby's:

Very interesting feedback on Lyn Thomas! Thanks for sharing that!

P.S. Don't usually do it but I put in links to some relevant old posts in this comment in case you'd like to check any of them out.

Best wishes,

7:30 PM  

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