Sunday, March 17, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Desert Fury (1947) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

The fascinating melodrama DESERT FURY (1947) has been released on a spectacular-looking Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

DESERT FURY looks as good as any Technicolor film I've ever seen; it's up there with LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (1945) as having Technicolor so rich it's worth watching just to look at it.

Fortunately there's quite a bit more to the film than just its looks; the movie also echoes LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN's fascination with a psychologically twisted character but takes it to the next level, with a story about not one but several disturbed people. Good-looking nice guy cop Tom (Burt Lancaster) is perhaps the lone sane person amidst the bunch of folks caught up in myriad love triangles.

Paula (Lizabeth Scott, who's improbably said to be 19) returns to a small town in Arizona, fleeing the latest in a series of boarding schools she's been sent to by her mother Fritzi (Mary Astor). Fritzi is looked down on by the townspeople for running a gambling joint and aspires for more for her daughter, but the troubled Paula isn't interested. Mother and daughter continually clash as the controlling Fritzi tries to pull strings to direct Paula's life, to the point of trying to buy her the man she views as an acceptable husband.

Paula is soon at the center of three different love triangles: Tom yearns for her, but she's hung up on bad guy Eddie (John Hodiak), a racketeer whose wife died somewhat mysteriously at a bridge outside town.

As Paula gets more serious about Eddie, she learns that he and her mother Fritzi (Mary Astor) once had a relationship. As if that weren't enough for Paula to deal with, there's another strong competitor for Eddie's affections: Eddie's right-hand man Johnny (Wendell Corey), who's extremely possessive and doesn't want to let go. Not your typical plot in 1947.

At times the overheated small-town melodrama, which includes crooked cops and a judge on the take, seems to be a bit of a precursor to FLAMINGO ROAD (1949), but for the most part it has a unique style of its own. The movie plays like a strange dream, filled with giant picture windows, overdone furniture, thunderstorms, the Piru Mansion, and the red rocks of Sedona, all seen in amazingly unreal Technicolor. One almost expects Lancaster to tell Scott she'd just been having a nightmare as they calmly walk away from a dead body in the final scene!

Lancaster's role is fairly small but gives the viewer someone to root for. Scott's Paula clearly has Mommy issues, and she's probably also got problems as the daughter of a dead crook. Lancaster, Scott, and Corey costarred later the same year in I WALK ALONE (1947), along with Kristine Miller, who receives prominent billing in DESERT FURY yet is little more than an extra as Scott's character drives into town at the start of the film. Scott drives past and Miller's character is never seen again!

I like Hodiak but his character is a bit one note, barking at Johnny while trying to convince himself he can have a new life in the desert with Paula. That said, his anger with Johnny lends itself to interesting interpretations, and his character has a moment with some coffee late in the film which made me audibly gasp. Corey played quite an unusual part in his film debut, with the Paula-Johnny battle over Eddie being central to the film; Corey's performance builds to a terrific final confrontation scene with Hodiak in a roadside diner.

DESERT FURY was directed by Lewis Allen (THE UNINVITED). It was filmed by Edward Cronjager and Charles Lang. The script by Robert Rossen was based on a novel by Ramona Stewart. The running time is a well-paced 96 minutes.

The supporting cast includes Anna Camargo, Milton Kibbee, Ray Teal, William Harrigan, and James Flavin.

I found this film quite entertaining. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray looks absolutely superb and is a "must" buy for anyone who appreciates stunning mid '40s Technicolor.

Extras include a commentary track by Imogen Sara Smith, the trailer, and nine additional trailers for Burt Lancaster films.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger Margot Shelby said...

You picked a good one there. So many layers of weird that made me raise my eyebrows. It's not just the Hodiak/Corey relationship, there's something a bit off about Scott and Astor too. And Lancaster seems to be in the wrong movie, he plays it completely straight.

It's a movie I revisit on a regular basis.

6:48 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

The Technicolor in this movie could probably hypnotize me! It is the sort of thing that overwhelms a story, but I wouldn't want it filmed any other way.

6:48 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Not what I would call a terrific picture, but terrific looking and stays with you. Lancaster makes the most of his part. Love him in this, but Hodiak is weak, and Mary Astor needs new make up and hair. Performance fine. L:izabeth Scott, too old, or too sophisticated, still fascinates.

7:54 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Really enjoyed all your comments! Definitely a lot of layers of weird, hypnotizing color, and stays with you -- agree with all three of you! Hope others will check out this really interesting film.

Best wishes,

7:56 PM  

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