Desert Fury

Desert Fury is a 1947 American crime film noir directed by Lewis Allen starring Lizabeth Scott, John Hodiak and Burt Lancaster, with Mary Astor and Wendell Corey.[2]

Desert Fury
Theatrical release poster
Directed byLewis Allen
Produced byHal B. Wallis
Screenplay byA. I. Bezzerides
Robert Rossen
Based onthe novel Desert Town
by Ramona Stewart
StarringLizabeth Scott
John Hodiak
Burt Lancaster
Mary Astor
Wendell Corey
Music byMiklós Rózsa
CinematographyEdward Cronjager
Charles Lang
Edited byWarren Low
Hal Wallis Productions
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • August 15, 1947 (1947-08-15) (United States)
Running time
96 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2.9 million (US rentals)[1]

The story was adapted for the screen by A.I. Bezzerides and Robert Rossen, based on the racy novel Desert Town by Ramona Stewart. The picture was produced by Hal Wallis, with music by Miklós Rózsa and cinematography in Technicolor by Charles Lang.

The movie was released by Kino Lorber on Blu-ray and DVD in the U.S. on Feb. 26, 2019.


Fritzi Haller (Mary Astor) is the tough owner of a saloon and casino in the small fictional mining town of Chuckawalla, Nevada. Her daughter, Paula Haller (Lizabeth Scott), has just quit school and returned home at the same time that gangster Eddie Bendix (John Hodiak) has returned. He was once involved with Fritzi, but left town under suspicion of murdering his wife.

Paula falls for Bendix and they become involved. Paula's old boyfriend, and local lawman, Tom Hanson (Burt Lancaster), along with Bendix's sidekick, Johnny Ryan (Wendell Corey), try to break up the relationship. When Fritzi finds out, she angrily tries to protect Paula and put a stop to her seeing Bendix.

Bendix's past catches up with him in an unexpected way when the car he is in, running from Hanson (who wants to rid the town of the likes of Bendix and Ryan), crashes through the railing as it is going onto the bridge and plunges down the embankment, killing him.



Scenes were shot on location in the small Ventura County, California, town of Piru, with the northwest side of Center Street, at Main, used as the exterior of Fritzi's saloon and casino; the Piru Mansion was used as the Haller home and the historic Piru bridge was used as the locale of the car crash. Some scenes were also shot in Clarkdale, Arizona.

Some outside shots were filmed in the Old Town section of Cottonwood, Arizona.


The film had its world premiere in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 23, 1947 with principal stars Burt Lancaster and Lizabeth Scott in attendance.[3]


Critical response

When the film was released, The New York Times roundly despised it. They wrote, "Desert Fury is a beaut - a beaut of a Technicolored mistake from beginning to end. If this costly Western in modern dress had been made by a lesser producer than Hal Wallis it could be dismissed in a sentence. But Mr. Wallis is a man with a considerable reputation, being a two-time winner of the Irving Thalberg Award of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and Desert Fury is such an incredibly bad picture in all respects save one, and that is photographically."[4]

In later years the film has been praised as a seminal and unique Hollywood melodrama due to its bold overtones of homosexuality:

Film scholar Foster Hirsch wrote, "In a truly subversive move the film jettisons the characters' criminal activities to concentrate on two homosexual couples: the mannish mother who treats her daughter like a lover, and the gangster and his devoted possessive sidekick. (...) Desert Fury is shot in the lurid, over-saturated colors that would come to define the 1950s melodramas of Douglas Sirk."[5]

Film noir expert Eddie Muller wrote, "Desert Fury is the gayest movie ever produced in Hollywood's golden era. The film is saturated - with incredibly lush color, fast and furious dialogue dripping with innuendo, double entendres, dark secrets, outraged face-slappings, overwrought Miklos Rosza violins. How has this film escaped revival or cult status? It's Hollywood at its most gloriously berserk."[6]

In one notable piece of dialogue for the period, Paula asks Eddie how he and Johnny met. He replies: "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.""And then?", Paula asks. To which the reply is: "I went home with him that night. We were together from then on."

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 57% based on 7 critics, with an average rating of 5.5/10.[7]


Paramount reissued the film in February of 1959.[8]


  1. "Top Grossers of 1947", Variety, 7 January 1948 p 63
  2. Desert Fury at the American Film Institute Catalog.
  3. The Film Daily (Jul-Sep 1947)
  4. The New York Times. "Movie Review Desert Fury (1947)" film review, September 25, 1947. Last accessed: April 16, 2014.
  5. Foster Hirsch: The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir, Da Capo Press, New York 2008, ISBN 978-0-306-81772-4; p.224.
  6. Eddie Muller: Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir, St. Martin's, New York 1998, ISBN 978-0-312-18076-8, p. 183.
  7. Desert Fury (Desert Town) (1947), retrieved 2019-04-22
  8. Boxoffice Barometer (1959)
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