Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Friday, January 4, 2008

DESIRE IN THE DUST


DESIRE IN THE DUST (1960). Director: William F. Claxton.

Lonnie Wilson (Ken Scott) gets out of prison after six years and comes home to find out the woman who promised to wait for him -- for a very good reason -- Melinda Marquand (Martha Hyer), has gotten married in the meantime. That doesn't stop her from fooling around with Wilson (see photo), but the latter tells her husband (Brett Halsey) what she's up to when he finds out about the marriage, and Melinda suddenly cries "Rape!" Then there's Melinda's father, Colonel Ben (Raymond Burr) who wants to run for governor, and her mother (Joan Bennett) who became unhinged after her little boy David was supposedly run over by Lonnie and thinks the child is still alive. And why does Melinda call her father by his first name? Hints of incest, anyone?

This is example of what happens when much less talented people try to take on a kind of Tennessee Williams "twisted" Southern family plot but lack the great playwright's brilliance, sensitivity and poetic feeling. With a better script, better acting and certainly better direction, Desire in the Dust might have amounted to some powerful stuff, but it wears out its welcome long before the not-so-melodramatic wind-up. When it comes to playing overbearing patriarchs, Raymond Burr proves no Burl Ives, and Joan Bennett doesn't seem at all sure of what she's doing. Ken Scott is beefy and sexy enough for the role of Lonnie, but while he isn't bad, he generally seems too reigned in throughout the movie. There are some effective enough character turns but the two actors who make the most impression are Douglas Fowley as Lonnie's aged father, and -- surprise -- Martha Hyer as the lamentable, slutty Melinda.

Verdict: Not half as entertaining as Claxton's giant killer bunny rabbit movie Night of the Lepus. **.

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