Desert Fury

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This odd little drama usually gets labeled a film noir, with the caveat that it’s filmed in Technicolor. It would be more accurate to say that it’s a genre hybrid, an uncategorizable whatsit from an era when films didn’t always have to be tidily slotted. The action takes place in a small Nevada town called Chuckawalla, where tough dame Fritzi Haller (Astor) runs the local casino. Fritzi’s bad-girl daughter Paula (Scott) starts a romance with gangster Eddie Bendix (Hodiak), who’s got a shady secret involving his wife’s death. He’s also got a gun-toting sidekick (Corey) whose closeness to Eddie can’t help but raise an eyebrow for contemporary audiences.

Allen’s fondness for the landscape suggests a Western transplanted to the postwar era. There’s even a scene with local cop Tom (Lancaster) breaking in a horse. But the script also feels like a melodrama, with mother/daughter tensions and a love affair as the central plot element.

It could easily have been a horrible jumble, but in fact it’s compulsively watchable. Maybe it’s the great supporting cast, all of them more interesting than Scott or Hodiak. Maybe it’s the gorgeous but not garish use of Technicolor. Or maybe Allen, an all-but-forgotten studio director, deserves more credit for holding it all together.

Release details

Rated: NR
Duration: 96 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Lewis Allen
Screenwriter: AI Bezzerides, Robert Rossen
Cast: John Hodiak
Lizabeth Scott
Burt Lancaster
Wendell Corey
Mary Astor
William Harrigan
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