furious queerness

Desert Fury (Lewis Allen, 1947) is the type of film that has to be seen to be believed–it’s one of the weirdest, queerest films I’ve ever seen, which is why it’s so interesting that it came out of the Hollywood studio system.  It’s essentially an odd, introverted B-film Paramount inexplicably plumped up with A-list trappings such as its use of “blazing Technicolor” (so screamed the poster taglines) and an absurd number of swanky Edith Head outfits for Lizabeth Scott to parade about in.  Curiously though the same amount of attention wasn’t given to the script, and thank goodness–a whole lot of truly bizarre character dynamics remain that would like have likely been erased if more attention had been paid to it.

Where to start?  All of the film’s publicity would make one think that the film features a torrid romance between Scott and strapping young Burt Lancaster, but that is actually far from the case–all of the other characters seem so involved with each other that they barely seem to notice poor Burt.  Mary Astor plays Scott’s mother, but with Astor stomping about in slacks, barking orders, and endlessly calling Scott “Baby,” I have to agree with one of the reviewers on the film’s IMDb page that their dialogue instead “suggests an older Lesbian and her young, restless companion,” particularly after a long scene where Scott begs to start working at her mother’s successful casino/bar, the Purple Sage(?!).

But that’s just the start: the real doozy is the obsessive relationship between John Hodiak and Wendell Corey, the latter in his screen debut–after Scott takes a shining to Hodiak and starts inviting herself to the men’s ranch, Corey flies into eye-clawing mode, followed by a  set of dramatic hissy fits.  The queer pièce de résistance, however, is when Hodiak describes to Scott how he met Corey: wandering around a deserted Times Square in the middle of the night, Corey bought the down-on-his-luck Hodiak a sandwich, took him back to his place for the night, and they’ve “been together ever since.”  All of these bizarre character dynamics play out against picturesque desert scenery so oversaturated that it begins to feel as artificial as a studio set, further heightening the overall sensation of overripe surreality.  Oh, not very good film at all, but it’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed one quite so much.

Memories of a Movie:

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12 thoughts on “furious queerness

    1. Hi Paul! Thanks for stopping by to comment, and I’m glad to hear you’re a fan of the film too!

      Scott is definitely still with us, and I had heard that she had essentially become a recluse so I never got her autograph, but there are some recent pics of her floating around at what look like media events of some kind, so maybe that’s not actually the case. I like Scott quite a bit–she definitely has a whiff of “B-movie Bacall” about her (she seems to combine all of the elements that make Bacall so memorable, but not quite so effectively. Maybe a lack of humor?). I liked her in “Martha Ivers” and “Dead Reckoning,” though I need to revisit both, as memories for both are hazy now…

    1. Funny you should mention that, as I’ve been thinking about Mary a lot this last week. Revisited “The Maltese Falcon” last week for the first time in years and years, and she remains the weakest element of the film for me. I just don’t find her convincing as the femme fatale at that point in her career–I think it’s telling that literally within several years she was playing the mother of Judy Garland, Lizabeth Scott, etc. But then I was reminded of how just a few years before MF was released Astor’s sexy diaries had been made public so her public persona had sordid associations that it just doesn’t have now, which I can accept.

      But other than that, I’m definitely a fan, though I haven’t seen a whole lot of her roles. She’s so fantastic here, but she’s also great in the first version of “Holiday,” which I wish she had reprised in the ’38 version–unlike Doris Nolan, Astor would have given Kate a run for her money for Cary’s affection!

  1. Of course, this notion of Astor and Scott as lesbians is only reinforced by the fact that Scott was implicated as a lesbian in the tabloids. In any case, you’re right. This is a weird, weird movie.

    1. Yes absolutely, great point–I had totally forgotten about that Scott was implicated as being a “baritone babe” (what a great euphemism!). And glad to hear you’ve seen it too, C! Have you written anything on it?

  2. Just got caught up on Comments etc. In 1942, Liz was understudy to Bankhead in
    “Skin of Our Teeth.” Let yer imagination go-o-o-o ! Her career was over in early
    ’50s when she sued Confidential magazine and lost on a technicality. She should
    have ignored the slurs as did Tab Hunter. I think Astor is pretty great in “Falcon.”
    She’s published a couple of books. Smart woman.

  3. In her memoir, “A Life on Film,” Astor writes that by mid-40s she
    purposely moved into Mother roles as she had to keep working
    and wanted to keep working. By 1945, she writes, “I was 39 years-old
    and lost in the enormous shuffle that was MGM.” Later, “Desert Fury”
    was a loan-out to Par. Still later she cancelled her MGM contract
    and spent 1952-56 in theatre, tv, summer stock.

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