Monday, July 09, 2007

Noir City Northwest: Desert Fury (1947)/Leave Her To Heaven (1946)

Day three’s theme was a cinch to figure out. Black hearts in Technicolor. Throw in Slightly Scarlet and you’d have yourself a party. Just check for your wallet and your kidneys on the way out.

According to the fest’s program notes, 1947’s Desert Fury is a cult classic waiting to happen, ripe with homoerotic subtext. Lizabeth Scott returns to her Nevada hometown and mother Mary Astor, who runs a two-bit casino and asks to be passed off as Liz’s sister. Arriving on the same day is hard-luck gambler John Hodiak and the sidekick with whom he’s unusually close (Wendell Corey in his screen debut). Watching them all askance is town deputy Burt Lancaster. I kept waiting for Burt to ask, “What’s eatin’ everyone in this cockamamie town?,” then pound his undershirted chest and declare that he was “all man, see?”

I think Desert Fury’s cult status may be a while in coming. For one thing, it’s never been available on video. For another, it isn’t very good. (I can’t rave about them all, can I? You’d lose respect for me.) The proceedings are too lethargic; to quote Rosemarie, “I saw the desert, but not the fury.” The good stuff, like an explanation of the true nature of the Hodiak/Corey relationship, is jammed into the closing ten minutes. The scenes that crackle are the ones between Astor and Lancaster, with him as the steadfast Boy Scout who relishes her attempts to corrupt him. As for the gay subtext, it’s there if you look, but we’re not talking The Big Combo here. I can’t swallow no more salami, indeed.

I’d already seen the classic 1946 melodrama Leave Her To Heaven, but never on the big screen. The newly restored print was absolutely gorgeous. When I turn in tonight, the colors of Gene Tierney’s outfits will be starbursting on the inside of my eyelids.

Tierney plays the comeliest psychotic in the history of motion pictures, the woman who “loves too much.” Once she falls for novelist Cornel Wilde, she vows to let nothing come between them. (There’s a TV movie remake starring Loni Anderson and Patrick Duffy. I’ve never seen it. But simply knowing of its existence diminishes me as a person.)

On this viewing, I was struck by the performance of Vincent Price as Tierney’s spurned district attorney lover. He has a brief scene early and dominates the action late. His work here is a reminder of how sly an actor he was in the days before horror movies claimed him, playing well-born men of questionable morals.

Last night Rosemarie dreamt an entire film noir, featuring her, me and Raymond Burr. These movies can be hazardous to your health. And we’ve still got four days to go.