When You Get Really Close to a Movie Screen, Film Emulsion Looks like…
Boiling Sand
DESIRE IN THE DUST (1960)
Categories: Classic Film, Good Stuff

Whoa, mama!! Did any of you see this film on Fox Movie Channel recently??!

DESIRE IN THE DUST is another of those claptrap novels of demented, devious and oversexed Southern families that Yankees love to project upon the denizens who live below the Mason-Dixon line: a horse-riding vixen who cools off by taking a dip wearing nothing but a Merry Widow, a dotty matron who throws graveside birthday parties for her deceased son; a pussywhipped husband, a lecherous patriarch, and sexual blackmail galore.

And throw Irene Ryan ( “Granny” from THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES ) into the casting mix as the dotty matron’s nurse.

It’s like a George Kuchar parody of Martin Ritt’s 1958 THE LONG, HOT SUMMER.

As the Erskine Caldwell-type patriarch of the White Trash / Irresistibly Sexy family on the wrong side of the tracks, the unparalleled Douglas Fowley [who played the harried movie director in SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN] goes wild once again: part of the secret of his over-the-top performances was divulged in Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock-and-Roll’s Legendary Neighborhood by Michael Walker. In that book, Fowley’s son (who worked in the music industry from the 1960s) recounts of going to the infamous Sunset Boulevard hotel “The Garden of Allah” with his dad to score opium and other mind-bending substances.

Ken Scott and Martha Hyer relax after a dinner of grits and fried chicken in DESIRE IN THE DUST

Ken Scott and Martha Hyer relaxing after a dinner of grits and fried chicken in DESIRE IN THE DUST

Based on a Harry Whittington pulp novel (NOT the Harry Whittington who was shot in the face by Dick Cheney while hunting, even though that would make the existence of this film more plausible), produced by one of the Lippert Brothers, and released by Twentieth Century-Fox, the movie is another great emblem of studio collapse, where you have Joan Bennett [a dozen years after working for Lang, Renoir and Max Ophuls in the most remarkable record in cinema history of working for the European immortals of film] chewing away at the dime-store scenery (the ante-bellum manse looks more like a family-on-a-budget’s summer rental), Raymond Burr taking a break from Perry Mason to play a heavy, plus hormonally-overactive newcomers selling sex in the new arena of post-classic Hollywood. [I should mention that it’s the shots of the newcomers, male and female, scantily clad and dripping wet that gives the most gratifying post-viewing satisfaction: the dripping wet female is Margaret Field, mother of Sally Field.]

But again, as someone born in Atlanta and who has lived in Chicago, I shake my head at how people in the rest of the U.S. think works such as this have a National Geographic-type authenticity to them. One of the worst culprits is ONE FALSE MOVE. [It’s ironic because here in Austin I am mistaken for Billy Bob Thornton as often as twice a day…]

As Flannery O’Connor wrote:  “anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.”

Doug / PoMo Joan

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4 Comments to “DESIRE IN THE DUST (1960)”

  1. Hilary says:

    Doug- Hello from Chicago. Sorry I missed this–I’m a big fan of Martha Hyer. The title recalls the name wags gave Duel in the Sun, Lust in the Dust. Yeah, the South is often treated as a hotbed horny hillbillies and randy rednecks.

  2. BobKat says:

    Watching it right now on FMC!! haha Outstanding!! So much stuffed into it, I feel this COULD have been a classic, but it misfires. Still, a joy to watch. More like, “Lust in the Dust”!! lol

  3. BobKat says:

    (Guess I should have read your review before I commented, but…) Here is the description given by the FMC guide: “Interesting Deep South tale of greed and lust, with dashes of Faulkner and Tennessee Williams.” That pretty much sums it up! I was born and raised in Boston, yet I lived/worked in New Orleans for 8 years. From experience, I can say that there are ELEMENTS of truth to these things. Hidden flings between races, 2nd cousins, etc. Just saying!! lol

    • Doug says:

      Thanks for posting, BobKat. I agree with your insights. One thing I really missed while living in the Midwest (Chicago) was Southern Decadence!!

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