Tag Archives: Wendell Corey

Desert Fury: Making Things Perfectly Queer

When Desert Fury was released in the UK , the Monthly Film Bulletin of Jan 1st 1947 labelled it a Western Drama, praised the colour for adding a ´certain air of  reality to the film´(!) but remarked on the sharply defined but extremely unnatural characters. The film was badly reviewed, made money, and then was largely forgotten for many years. David Ehrenstein, in ‘Desert Fury, Mon Amour’, an important piece for Film Quarterly in 1988, significantly dedicated to Vito Russo and Richard Dyer, wrote: ´You aren´t likely to find Desert Fury listed on a revival or repertory house schedule. It isn´t avaiable on home video. at best you might be able to catch it in some 3.am slot on local television, or unspooled some afternoon when rain cancels a baseball game. And why not? It´s ´just a movie´– produced, consumed, forgotten. Not good. Not bad. Medicore. In fact, one might even go so far as to call it quintessentially mediocre’.  And yet, Ehrenstein argues, the film ´speaks to cinematic desires barely formed and only half-uttered´.

 

What once couldn´t be uttered now seems obvious to all. By 1998 Eddie Muller in Dark City, The Lost World of Film Noir, would write, ‘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’ (p.183)´By 2008, Foster Hirsch in The Dark Side of The Screen: Film Noir, was writing ´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'(p.224). By 2014, Ronald Bergan in Film Comment, would argue that´Since Vito Russo’s 1981 book The Celluloid Closet, we have grown accustomed to reading cryptic messages of homosexuality in pre-Sixties Hollywood movies. But the Eddie-Johnny relationship is too overt to be intentionally gay in the Hollywood of the Forties’. The film offers an interesting critical trajectory: What was unnatural if invisible or unutterable, merely ‘bad’, in 1947, now seems too excessively obvious.

I’ve been trying to practice my video skills, playing with dissolves and titles, still terrible at both, but I have put together clips from the film, edited down but in chronological order, that create such a vivid queer triangle that it does make one wonder what was going on in people’s minds and make one wish someone had interviewed all involved on this issue.  I think you’ll find that the power of this vividly queer narrative will override the evidence of my relative lack of editing skills. There´s another, similar exercise, to be made on lesbianism in the same film.

 

José Arroyo

A note on The Rainmaker (Joseph Anthony, USA, 1956)

The Rainmaker

 

Caught The Rainmaker on TPTV last night, one of those 1950s film adaptations of not very good Broadway plays then considered ´significant´and ‘important´ and filmed with so little skill and imagination they now have the virtue of conveying what the Broadway production might have been like. Anyway, I digress, the main reason for posting is that I was just bowled over by Katharine Hepburn, charming and touching in a really embarrassingly conceived role. The play is a about the tensions between accepting reality and using fantasy and imagination to escape it. And the theme is played out over the figure of Lizzie, who does´t conform to then dominant notions of femininity. The play keeps asking ´what is a woman’ and assumes a female can only be a ´real woman´if she´s with a man. Burt Lancaster is athletic, a little over the top, but rather poetic with it as well. His Starbuck is not just a huckster but a dreamer and the performance is a dynamic  dry run for his Elmer Gantry of a few years later. Pauline Kael called the casting, ´just about perfect’ even though Hepburn is about twenty years old for the part. ´Hepburn is stringy and tomboyish, believably plain and magnetically beautiful’ (p. 483, 5001 Nights).

 

Hepburn

Watching The Rainmaker last night made me wonder if any star´s reputation has altered so much as Hepburn´s in my lifetime. When I was a teenager in the 70s, she was the biggest and most influential star of the classic era, still getting leading roles in prestige productions, and  in the late sixties being ranked higher as a box office star than she´d ever been in her whole career, plus winning Academy Awards, starring in hit musicals on Broadway, prestige adaptations on television that were seen nationwide by huge audiences (Love Among the Ruins, The Glass Menagerie). Books were published to satiate and fan demand, Charles Higham´s biography in 1975, Garson Kanin´s memoir, Tracey and Hepburn in 1970. She was a feminist role model, often cited as the most admired woman in America in the 1970s. Andrew Britton published one of the key early monographs on stardom through an analysis of her personal in 1984: Katharine Hepburn: Star as Feminist. Now….

It seems that what used to grate with audiences before (the voice, the mannerisms, the dreamy floweriness of her style) grate now. The feminism that then seemed so daring (Sylvia Scarlett but I´m thinking particularly Woman of the Year, how it seems less so now, and the ending of the latter is often used against her, forgetting all that leads up to it). Her great films (e.g. Holiday) are still greatly admired. But as a star, has lost some of the lustre she had in the 70s. And she didn´t even beat her daughter with a wire hanger  to lose her lustre.

She doesn´t inspire worship the way Crawford, Bergman, Davis and others do. As an actress, Stanwyck is the one who´s most in fashion now. Hepburn was too uninterested in the things that inspire gay cults (glamour, clothes, jewels) and she has certainly been the victim of the viciousness of queens (Cecil Beaton´s diaries are particularly nasty). Of course her need to be the centre of attention in her quite old age, the awful tv movies near the end that seemed to get worse and worse, the extreme ego-centrism of her autobiography, Me, none of that has helped….

..But then one sees her charm, and shine and daring in even something so second-rate as The Rainmaker, something so second rate that is nonetheless still seen for what Lancaster and she bring to it, and one thinks, well, these things are cycles, and the evidence of the work, she´ll be back in fashion again soon.

burt-chair

José Arroyo