top of page

DVD Review: Desert Fury (1947)

For some time, those interested in film noir have sought after “Desert Fury” to be released on DVD. It has now been restored, and released, on DVD and blu ray from KINO.

Shot in Technicolor on location in Ventura County, California, and in Clarkdale, Arizona, “Desert Fury” is one of the edgier post-war noir dramas mostly due to the gay subtext that exists between characters played by John Hodiak and Wendell Corey (making his film debut here).

The story deals with Hodiak as Eddie Bendix, a gangster, returning to his Nevada home town at about the same time as Paula Haller (Lizabeth Scott) also returns, living with her mother, Fritzi (Mary Astor) a saloon owner. Eddie had once been connected with Fritzi, but has lived away for years after being accused of murdering his wife. Paula falls for Eddie, who is traveling with Johnny, a close friend and partner. At one point, Eddie offers this dialog in relating how he and Johnny met: “It was in the automat off Times Square, about two o'clock in the morning on a Saturday. I was broke, he had a couple of dollars, we got to talking. He ended up paying for my ham and eggs. I went home with him that night. We were together from then on." Johnny and Eddie live together and are rarely apart. Johnny does the cooking, comments on Eddie’s looks, and even confronts Paula, demanding she leave Eddie alone.

Burt Lancaster, in only his third movie, is Tom Hanson, a lawman who had once been involved with Paula. Being naturally protective, he tries to break up the romance between her and Eddie. So does Johnny, having his own agenda. While Tom is protective of Paula, mother Fritzi is downright possessive. Their relationship also hints at a deeper psychological level.

Director Lewis Allen worked in a lot of genres, from light comedy to heavy drama, and he never really established a consistent tone or style. But his approach to the material for “Desert Fury” is quite effective. Working with bright colors rather than the darks and grays of the usual noir, Allen seems to draw from his previous supernatural mysteries “The Uninvited” and “The Unseen” to create a creepy atmosphere where everything seems to be slightly on edge. Allen is perhaps best remembered for having directed many episodes of TV’s “Bonanza” at the end of his career. “Desert Fury” is probably his best film.

One of the most significant noir aspects of “Desert Fury” is the snappy dialog that has its own discernible rhytm, and is filled with innuendo. The script for “Desert Fury,” by A. I. Bezzerides and Robert Rossen, was based on the seamy novel “Desert Town” by Ramona Stewart. The film is further enhanced by Miklos Rozsa’s score.

The performances are all strong, but it is Lizabeth Scott who carries the film. Just coming off of work opposite Humphrey Bogart in the noirish “Dead Reckoning” at Columbia, her Paula is a striking presence whose husky voice murmurs such ominous statements as, “some things can’t be fixed.”

The notable special feature on the KINO blu ray and DVD is commentary by the always excellent Imogen Sara Smith, who points out some of the significant elements of the film’s narrative and presentation with a thorough knowledge and frame of reference. Consistently enlightening as well as entertaining, it helps us better appreciate the film.

“Desert Fury” has a lot of layers, and is important beyond its screenplay, director and stars. It is most highly recommended. It is available at this link: Desert Fury.

James L. Neibaur
bottom of page