By Robert Heide
August 6th is the date to mark down on your calendar to go to the air-conditioned Film Forum on Houston Street to see the one-day-only double bill in the Burt Lancaster Film Festival, which runs through August 15th, of Desert Fury and I Walk Alone, both starring my own favorite movie star Lizabeth Scott. In both of these pictures made in 1947, Burt Lancaster plays the heartthrob whom Scott falls hard and head over heels for. In my opinion this is a must-see special event for all film fanatics.
Desert Fury (in Technicolor) has become a “camp” cult film among many film buffs due to its thinly disguised gay underpinning. Two gun-totin’ bad guys, played by John Hodiak and Wendell Corey, are holed up in a desert motel—and they play it as if they are gay lovers. Mary Astor and Scott play mother and daughter. They both have men’s names and they act as if they are a lesbian couple. In the middle, of course, is Burt Lancaster playing the sheriff, whose job it is to straighten out all the confusion. Fortunately he is provided with a Chrysler woodie station wagon to drive around in the scenic desert locations while Scott has a convertible, which is also a Chrysler woodie. The bad guys drive a plain grey sedan. I Walk Alone is a black and white film noir about two bootleggers on the lam, played by Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, with beautiful, blond, aloof, and alluring Scott playing the femme fatale.
Lizabeth Scott had been an understudy to Tallulah Bankhead in Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth on Broadway and got her lucky break when Hal Wallis, the powerhouse director, was in the audience the night she went on for Tallulah. It was reported later, in a 1950s Confidential Magazine article, that she was Wallis’s mistress, in a story about a pajama party which had Scott kicking out her gay girlfriends with the announcement that Hal was on the way over.
For her first role in the patriotic war film You Came Along (1945), one authoritative columnist called her the “hubba hubba girl,” which was a tagline used in the film’s press releases. The phrase “hubba hubba hubba, goin’ my way? What do you say?” was from a popular forties song, and military men back from the war picked it up as a catchall flirtation line shouted out to pretty girls passing by. Known as “The Face of Film Noir,” the sultry, smoky voiced Scott was given a huge publicity buildup in the late 1940s, appearing on the covers of over 40 film magazines. She was cast opposite Hollywood’s top leading men, including, in addition to Lancaster, Van Heflin (The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, 1946); Humphrey Bogart (Dead Reckoning, 1947); Dick Powell (Pitfall, 1948); Dan Duryea (Too Late for Tears, 1949); Charlton Heston, in two films (Dark City, 1950 and Bad for Each Other, 1953); and Paul Henreid (Stolen Face, 1952). To top it all off, Scott, who died at age 92 in 2015, appeared opposite a rock ‘n’ rollin’ Elvis Presley in Loving You in 1953.
Robert Heide is a playwright and the author, among many other books on the subject of American popular culture, of Starstruck—The Wonderful World of Movie Memorabilia, published by Doubleday and now available at Amazon.