Desert Fury (1947)

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Released 6-May-2008

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Crime Melodrama Main Menu Audio-Main title theme Dolby digital at 224 Kbps.
Notes-Reverse of slick has a critique of 500 words.
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1947
Running Time 91:37
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Lewis Allen
Studio
Distributor

Ovation
Starring John Hodiak
Lizabeth Scott
Burt Lancaster
Wendell Corey
Mary Astor
Kristine Miller
William Harrigan
James Flavin
Jane Novak
Anna Camargo
Case Amaray-Opaque
RPI $14.95 Music Miklós Rózsa


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes, Non stop - especially by female characters.
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

 

"Two men wanted her love ...

The third wanted her LIFE !"

 

    DV1 have made a recent addition to their Hollywood Classic series with the Region 4 DVD release of the 1947 production Desert Fury, which appears to be the debut of this title in any video format. Unfortunately not every film from the "golden years" is a classic. This Paramount release was made by the Hal B. Wallis production company which worked within the Paramount studio set-up, that arrangement giving us everything from frequent Elvis Presley and Martin and Lewis "cookie cutter" entries, to the prestigious, and often award winning, Come Back Little Sheba, The Rainmaker, The Rose TattooBecket, True Grit and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral to name just a few. One of the first projects under the new arrangement with Paramount was Desert Fury, a major box-office success in 1947, but today mainly of note as the first film made by Burt Lancaster under his Hal Wallis contract. Apart from its place in the career of one of the all-time great male stars, and the unusual use of sumptuous Technicolor in a modern day drama, Desert Fury is a bit of a guilty pleasure.

    Producer Hal Wallis first worked for Warner Bros on Little Caesar (1930). By the time he produced Casablanca for Warners his name had been on no less than 283 feature films! When that genuine classic was announced as winner of the Best Film Oscar in 1943, Wallis rightly moved towards the stage to receive the award, but he was beaten to the podium by studio head Jack Warner, anxious to claim the award himself. Wallis was so enraged that he left Warners and moved his production company to Paramount, where he was granted more control. Wallis began signing up talent for his production company, including Barbara Stanwyck, Kirk Douglas, Lizabeth Scott, Wendell Corey and Burt Lancaster, a well-built ex-acrobat who had made a hit on Broadway in  a play that ran barely two weeks, A Sound of Hunting. Lancaster's first film was to be Desert Fury, and he was tested opposite Lizabeth Scott. Production on the Wallis film was delayed,  Lancaster's agreement allowing him one film per year outside the contract. He was signed by  producer Mark Hellinger to make The Killers, based on the Ernest Hemingway novel and to be released by Universal. When The Killers was completed Lancaster then made his first Wallis film. The Killers was released and that film and its handsome young blonde star were a sensation. By that time Desert Fury was in post-production and Lancaster was in a contract dispute with Wallis, the young actor now wanting two films per year outside his contractual commitment - which he got - and in the interim Hellinger  quickly cast him in Brute Force. This second Hellinger film was another sensation, and while the third released Desert Fury met with less than critical acclaim its box-office receipts were excellent, due mainly to the new sensation Burt Lancaster, whose image now dominated the movie's poster. In his biography the star is quoted as saying that his career would never have got off the ground had Desert Fury been released first, referring to it as the film that "starred a station wagon".

    Desert Fury's credits blaze in orange/red slashes across a brilliant blue sky, vibrant and vulgar, preparing us for the film to come. We see two unsavoury looking males in a sedan speeding along the desert highway towards the five miles distant town of Chuckawalla. These two are racketeer Eddie Bender (John Hodiak) and his sidekick Johnny Ryan (Wendell Corey).There is something unsavoury in Eddie's past associations with Chuckawalla, something that involves the death of his wife, a car and a bridge. We cut to the small town's main street and we see that magnificent car moving through the centre of town. Lancaster's memory was playing tricks, as it is not a station wagon but a large convertible, with extensive use of wood panelling and sumptuous leather upholstery - an eye-popping sensation to Australian moviegoers in 1947. Behind the wheel is an equally expensive looking Lizabeth Scott. Long blonde hair glistening, Miss Scott is snubbed by a couple of local femmes because she is Paula Haller, daughter of Fritzi Haller (Mary Astor), who runs the town's gambling joint (should we read "brothel"?) The Purple Sage. Paula finds a warmer welcome from the young, virile sheriff, Tom Hanson (Burt Lancaster).

    When Paula arrives home we meet Fritzi, cigarette holder seemingly permanently fixed to her hand. Fritzi repeatedly refers to her daughter as "Bebby", dialogue rat-tat-tatting out of her mouth. "We'll talk about that later, Bebby," she fires at Paula, sounding oddly like Bogart. (Miss Astor was obviously influenced by her The Maltese Falcon experience.) When Fritzi discovers that Paula is attracted to Eddie she is incensed. Is there something in Fritzi's past that Paula doesn't know about? Fritzi encourages Sheriff Tom to marry her daughter, even offering to finance him in buying the ranch he aspires to. When Paula learns about her mother's interference she defiantly pours more energy into her relationship with Eddie. Glowering on the sidelines is Johnny, who has an obsessive, strangely interdependent relationship with Eddie. In a conversation with Paula Eddie refers to Johnny as his "wife"! Later Eddie tells Paula of his first meeting with Johnny in the wee small hours in Times Square. -"I was broke - he had two dollars. I went home with him that night. We were together from then on." Innuendo was common currency in the repressed movies of the Forties and here we have it in the relationship between these two men, as well as in that between Fritzi and Paula. Mother and daughter sound, and at times behave, more like lesbian lovers, with their final kiss a confrontingly ambiguous moment. So these erotically murky passions fester and ultimately rage, faces get slapped - this happens twice, like angry lovers, between Eddie and Johnny!! - and it all climaxes with gunfire followed by a quite exciting 1947 car chase.

    The screenplay by Robert Rossen is based on a novel by Ramona Stewart which was serialised in Colliers Magazine, an upmarket women's fashion glossy. Rossen has written some excellent movies such as The Roaring Twenties and All The King's Men, but Desert Fury is not one of them. Director Lewis Allen had created a memorable film with The Uninvited (1944) but here his hand is heavy and wooden. Why have his leading lady take such ridiculous artificial poses as she stretches to look through her oval bedroom window? At times his technique seems to be: When in doubt, light a cigarette!  Some commentators refer to Desert Fury as film noir, but this is really ignoring any meaningful definition of the term. I am afraid that some terms - such as film noir and thriller are bandied about today until they have become meaningless. This is weak melodrama. Not that the term melodrama means automatic adverse criticism. Not by any means. There is good melodrama - Bette Davis's great Warners movies, The Tarnished Angels for example - but this is pure surface gloss with nothing substantial beneath except perhaps some hints at "abnormal" sexual relationships.

    The performances are predictable and one-dimensional except for Wendell Corey, in his first film, who does manage to give some depth to his sketchy character. John Hodiak is unattractive and unconvincing,  Burt Lancaster is big haired and broad shouldered, while Mary Astor is entertaining as she chews up the scenery along with her cigarette holder. One ludicrous line of dialogue has her referring to her past: "I had something wrong with my lungs." No wonder! Lizabeth Scott's even modest Hollywood success remains a mystery. She couldn't act, was not beautiful or even pretty, with a bee-sting pout on her thin upper lip. The hair was certainly glossy and the voice husky, but here there is little more than that. Ten years later she was better, 1957 seeing her star in Elvis Presley's Loving You, again teamed with Wendell Corey and working for Hal Wallis. That year also saw the release of her delightful twelve track album Lizabeth on RCA.

    Technically Desert Fury is a prime example of glossy 1940s Hollywood film-making. As stated earlier the use of three-strip Technicolor on a modern drama was most unusual in the 40s and here it becomes the outstanding feature of the film. With gleaming photography by Charles Lang (Ace in the Hole) and Edward Cronjager (Heaven Can Wait - another unusual use of Technicolor in a 1943 comedy/fantasy),  the images virtually leap off the screen. The numerous close-ups of all cast members are magnificent in their total artificiality. Every hair, on head and brow, is meticulously positioned, Wally Westmore's make-up is impeccably obvious, eyes are clear and luminous and Edith Head's costumes are perfection. Each shot is given the care of a studio portrait, and they certainly look stunning. Perhaps the height of artificiality is reached with the photography and lighting of the fireside scene between Scott and Hodiak. It looks fantastic, with the fire's glow impossibly bathing the two (fully dressed in 1947) lovers. Then we have the frequent use of rear projection. True, there is a fair amount of location and back lot shooting, but invariably there is a progression to the studio medium shot, with the locale projected behind. Scott and Hodiak take their poses on a small soundstage fake fence as she intones : "This is what I like, Eddie. To be alone on the desert. The sagebrush and the sky."

    The last - or is it first? - ingredient of the melodrama is the melos, the music. Here it is provided by the superb Miklos Rozsa, who has scored, amongst many, The Thief of Bagdad, Spellbound, The Killers, A Double Life and Ben Hur. Here he does not have the range of emotions to reflect, but as the passions surge so does Rozsa's score, heightening the action on screen. At times with this wooden cast the only real emoting going on is in the music.

    A guilty pleasure? Sure. This is fun, never boring, and always great to look at - even if only to marvel at the three-strip Technicolor, the close-ups and the ubiquitous use of rear projection. The glossy people posture attractively - for the most part - in appropriately glossy settings, behave pretty outrageously and utter improbable dialogue. This is a great ninety minutes of melodramatic entertainment. Now, if only someone would release The Female Animal!

 

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The video transfer is most satisfying, giving the experience of seeing sumptuous 1940s Technicolor.

    The transfer is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1, the theatrical release having been 1.37:1. There is no 16x9 enhancement of course.

    The reproduction of the three-strip Technicolor image is, for about eighty percent of the running time, beautiful. The image is steady and generally extremely sharp. Colours are rich and deep, covering every spectrum of the rainbow. The passionate reds, oranges and yellows are used to great effect, especially in the aforementioned fireside scene. Close-ups are a glorious reminder of the past.

    Shadow detail is extremely good. There is only a slight amount of grain, much more obvious in the rear-projections. There is no low level noise.

    Film-to-video artefacts were difficult to find. There is no aliasing, despite the fact that Edith Head's costumes frequently involve stripes and checks. The detail on the textiles was excellent, as it was on all interior decor.

    This is not a restored print, and there are a few film artefacts to report.Reel change cues are still in place. There was one instance of film shrinkage noted (19:34) with a slight misaligning of the three separate colour images. This shot is very brief. There was a small amount of film debris noted (45:26), which did not drastically interfere with the image. There are positive scratches in the establishing long shot at the opening of the film, but this clears once we cut to the interior of the car. There is a very small amount of white flecking throughout the film, occasionally worse around a reel change. Basically the source material used is in good to excellent condition.

    There are no subtitles.

    This is a single layer disc.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The audio is original mono, and in very good shape.

    There is one audio track, English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono encoded at 192 Kbps.

    The dialogue was always clear and easy to understand, and there was no problem with sync. There is a small amount of crackle (9:19 being the worst), the occasional "pop" (58:55) but no dropouts.

    Generally the mono soundtrack is in excellent shape, with the orchestral score sounding very good indeed. The dynamic range sounds surprisingly wide.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

   The only "extra" on each disc is the menu. There are notes on the inside of the slick.

Menu

    The Main Menu screen is in appropriately lurid colours, with art work of Burt Lancaster and Lizabeth Scott taken from the slick. There is an insert screen with a  montage of scenes from the film. The audio is the main title music from the start of the film in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono encoded at 224 Kbps. There are two options : Play  and Chapter Select. The Chapter Select option leads to two screens, each with the same artwork as the Main Menu, but without the insert screen and without audio. Each of these two screens has five thumbnails.

Notes

    The reverse of the slick contains approximately five hundred words of notes on the film. These notes are written by Vigen Galstayan (?) and are dated June 2008.

    The notes are interesting and informed, giving a much more favourable opinion on the film.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    There appears to be no release of this title anywhere else in the world.

Summary

    Desert Fury is a potboiler of a drama. Colourful characters, complex relationships, seething emotions, money, cars, sex and sin. This is all packaged in glorious 1947 three-strip Technicolor, with a very good print, unrestored but with only a few minor blemishes. Sometimes ludicrous, but always entertaining. Pour yourself a glass of wine, get out the potato chips and sit back and wallow in its sensual nonsense!

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Garry Armstrong (BioGarry)
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Review Equipment
DVDOnkyo-SP500, using Component output
DisplayPhilips Plasma 42FD9954/69c. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS777
SpeakersVAF DC-X fronts; VAF DC-6 center; VAF DC-2 rears; LFE-07subwoofer (80W X 2)

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Now that is a review! - Bogal REPLY POSTED
Desert Fury and Technicolor -
Loved this movie! - Byron Kolln (HELLO FOOLS! Read my Bio!) REPLY POSTED