Desire in the Dust (1960) Poster

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Plenty of both desire and dust in this overbaked melodrama
Poseidon-34 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
With a title like this, the key word isn't likely to be subtlety! The story concerns two Louisiana families bound together by a tragic event. Burr (completing the triad of Orson Welles in "The Long, Hot Summer" and Burl Ives in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof") plays a domineering colonel who runs roughshod over everyone within his sight, all the while wielding a rather intimidating (and focus-stealing!) walking stick. His wife Bennett lives in a dreamy stasis, unable to accept the fact that her youngest child has died six years prior. His daughter Hyer is an icy beauty and a chip off the old block, matching him in his ability to manipulate people. Ging, his son, has trouble standing up to him, especially when he's ordered to stop seeing buxom, but tacky Helm. Helm's brother (Scott) has just returned from a stint in prison for killing Burr's little boy. His father Fowley is a moonshining sharecropper who barely scrapes by. Rounding out the massive cast are Field, as the long-suffering sister of Scott and Helm, Binns, as a prying newspaperman and Halsey, as the handsome, but clueless husband of Hyer. It could very likely require two viewings of the film in order to clearly catch all the connections between these characters since none of it is made particularly clear right off the bat. A viewer could be forgiven for thinking that Hyer is Burr's mistress rather than his daughter, though that may have been the intention. The credits have barely rolled before the hilarity begins. Cornpone accents abound as the characters take their turns being introduced. Fowley and Field grapple with their old Jeep, Bennett throws a birthday party at the gravesite of her son, Ging jumps fully clothes into a lake in order to kiss Helm and Scott tosses a mouthy bar patron across a pinball machine! Before long, tempers start to rise (as do some passions) and mysteries begin to unfold about the death of the little boy. It all comes to a head at Burr's hunting lodge and later at his estate. There's enough plot here and a large enough assortment of characters to warrant a full season of a prime-time soap. So many characters are present that sometimes they are offscreen for long stretches until their turn comes back around, but everyone gets a chance to make an impression. Lurid and tacky as the film is, the script is actually rather nicely constructed save a few contrivances and senseless interludes. Burr clearly enjoyed this return to villainous roles as he was in the throes of his long-running "Perry Mason" series at the time. He's pretty hammy throughout, but goes off the Richter scale near the end. Hyer is deliciously sleazy and duplicitous, also relishing the chance to break out of the more "nice girl" roles she often played. Bennett hasn't got much to do for the bulk of the film except be overheard breaking things, but she does well when her storyline reaches it's boiling point. Surprisingly, one of the most sincere, believable and interesting performances in this film full of big personalities is Field's. She invests her stock, dirt poor character with humanity and variety to good effect. Fans of "The Beverly Hillbillies" will be intrigued to see Ryan ("Granny Clampett") in her last reasonably normal role as Bennett's nurse before becoming, once and for all, the mountain-born imp with a frying pan in one hand and a shotgun in the other! The film is a hotbed of emotion, some of it quite hilarious, that is tempered somewhat by the black and white photography. One can only imagine the unbelievably vivid, but vulgar spectacle that would have resulted if the film had been shot in glorious Technicolor.
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TV actors galore in overblown southern drama
blanche-228 June 2005
Released in 1960, Desire in the Dust looks to have been a B movie, featuring a lot of TV actors and future TV actors: Raymond Burr, Anne Helm, Jack Ging, Edward Binns, Martha Hyer, and Brett Halsey. The film also looks to be attempting to cash in on the success of those southern Big Daddy dramas like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Long Hot Summer.

The Big Daddy in this one is Raymond Burr, who tightly controls a family that includes his off-her-rocker wife, played by Joan Bennett, stunningly beautiful daughter Hyer, her wimpy doctor husband, Brett Halsey, and son, Jack Ging. Bennnett never recovered from the death of a young son who was hit by a car six years earlier; Ging is love with the white trash daughter of the man who supposedly ran him over.

Of course, there's a lot more to the story than that and in 102 minutes, this film stuffs it all in, including more cigarettes and alcohol than one would see in ten films put together. There are also a lot of bullets, dust, and histrionics.

All in all, it's a slow go, with a couple of interesting segments and decent acting.
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Six years in prison...for nothin'.
MartinHafer18 February 2018
Lonnie (Ken Scott) just got out of prison for vehicular homicide. The problem is that through the course of the movie you realize that he didn't do it but took the rap for his girlfriend, Melinda (Martha Hyer). But when Lonnie gets into town, he learns that Melinda is married and she didn't wait for him! Nice girl, huh? Well, through the course of the film you come to realize that she's actually much, much worse!

This film definitely pushed the envelope back in 1960...deliberately so. The fim begins with a scene where you THINK you see someone skinny dipping and the story is filled with sleazy elements and some cursing as well as the word 'rape'....somewhat tame by modern standards but certainly not for 1960!

So is it worth seeing? Well, the acting quality is very good and it's a well made film. Whether or not you will like it will depend a lot on whether or not you like sleazy soap operas. I enjoyed it.

By the way, this film has some very strange billing. Although Kent Scott clearly plays the leading character in the film, he gets fourth billing. And, although Joan Bennett received third billing, she's barely in the film.
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Makes God's Little Acre Look Like Little Bo Beep
Handlinghandel11 August 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Heavy-breathing and faux-Southern, though shot, we are told at the end, in authentic Louisiana locations. We have incest here, folks, or hints of it. (That would be patriarch Raymond Burr and his daughter Martha Hyer.) We have nymphomania (Hyer.) We have boozing and fighting.

We have insanity in the form of Burrr's wife, played by Joan Bennett. (She looks great here -- much better than a decade earlier in the very different and far better "Father of the Bride.) The movie opens with a birthday party for her little boy. The problem is, the party is taking place at his grave. He's been dead six years or so.

The man sent up for killing him while driving drunk is Hyer's ex-boyfriend. She's married now -- and to a doctor, no less.

It isn't believable. But it's never dull. And there's much to be said for an entertaining movie, no matter how silly it is at its core.
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I don't know which of you I despise most! While your making your mind up go upstairs and lock yourself into your room!
sol-kay2 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
***SPOILERS*** It's when Lonnnie Wilson, Ken Scott, shows up that things start getting really interesting and dangerous in the quite little town of Clinton Louisiana. Lonnie had spent the last six years on a Louisiana chain gang for running down and killing little 10 year old Davie Marquard in a drunk driving accident. As we soon find out it wasn't Lonnie who was behind the wheel of the car that ran Davie down but his girlfriend Melinda Marquard, Martha Hyer, Davie's big sister! So why did the totally innocent Lonnie Wilson take the rap for a crime that he didn't commit?

The truth surrounding the circumstances of Davie's tragic death slowly comes out in bits and pieces and it boils down to this. To prevent Melinda from being charged in her kid brother's death Lonnie was encouraged by her pop big shot in town Col.Ben Marquard,Raymond Burr, to take the rap for her! Now with the Colonel planning to run for governor of the great state of Louisiana the last thing he wants is for Lonnie to hurt his chances of becoming the chief executive of the state. And it's his daughter Melinda, whom Lonnie was in love with and took to rap for, by her marrying Dr. Ned Thomas, Brett Halsey, that may well be the reason for Col. Ben's campaign for governor to go down in flames before it even begins!

Raymond Burr who took time off from his popular Perry Mason TV show to be in the film plays such a sleazy corrupt and unethical person in Col. Ben that even Perry Mason couldn't keep him from getting convicted. It's Col.Ben's rotten to the core daughter who proves the phrase "That the apple doesn't fall far from the tree" to be true in taking after her pop in how she treats her former lover Lonnie Wilson as well as her now husband Dr. Ned Thomas. Both men are manipulated by Melinda to the point where they, by the time the film is even over, almost end up murdering each other!

As for Col. Ben's mentally destroyed wife Mrs. Marquard, Joan Bennett, she still believes that little Davie is alive despite witnessing him being killed and is encouraged into believing that by her husband Col. Ben. That instead of getting the poor woman help in being treated for her severe mental depression! It's Lonnie as usual who gets the short end of the stick in the movie by being dumped by Milanda and at the same time set him up, after she gets caught making out with him, in getting Lonnie murdered by her outraged husband Dr. Thomas.

***SPOILERS*** It's the crusading newspaper owner of the towns Clinton Press Luke Connett, Edward Binns, who comes to Lonnie's rescue before he ended up shot by a posse lead Sheriff Wheaton, Kelly Thordsen, one of Col. Ben's paid off stooges. That's in Luke in getting Lonnie off-while he's on the lamb form the law-on a phony attempted rape charge by you guessed it Milinda Marquard. This has Lonnie, who also ended up getting shot by Milinda, to open up and spill the beans on Col. Ben's covering up his daughter's involvement in Davie's death. By the Colonel having Lonnie unwittingly, by being promised that Milinda would be waiting for him after he finishes his sentence, tricked into taking the rap for it!

In the end Col.Ben's plans to become governor of Louisiana fall by the wayside and worst of all his wimpy son Peter, Jack Ging, whom the Colonel treats with absolute contempt finally lets him have it by telling him what a low down and dirty rat he really is! Peter ends up walking out on his tyrannical pop in order to marry Lonnie's kid sister Cass, Anne Helms, whom the by now completely discredited Colonel was dead set against him doing!
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A Golden Globe?
JohnHowardReid19 November 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Brett Halsey won a Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer? He'd already made at least sixty or seventy movie and TV appearances! How many movies do you have to make before you're NOT classified as a newcomer? Five hundred and twelve maybe?

Obviously adapted from some melodramatic dime-store pot-boiler, this cliché-ridden tale of the new/old South is handled perfectly straight by director and actors alike. Though the story carries sufficient impetus to keep one reasonably entertained, its audience potential is limited.

Production values are adequate, with some effective location photography, and the casting of Martha Hyer as the femme fatale is a decided asset.
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The ordinary upper class self destructive family trauma
clanciai17 March 2019
This could have been written by Eugene O'Neill or Tennessee Williams, it's a southern family drama filmed entirely on location in Lousiana, and all the ordinary ingredients are there: a tyrannical autocratic father, a harassed younger son, a lewd daughter and a mad mother, an old faithful coloured servant (Rex Ingram), a corrupt police officer, and the rural innocent family, the son getting out of jail after six years for having taken the blame for the accidental death of the lewd blonde daughter's little brother, which drove the mother (Joan Bennett) mad, with the promise that he would have her when he got out, and when he does he finds her married to another.

That's the set-up. A major part is played by the music, which is very sensually jazzy all the way, stressing the decadent sexual strain of the film, but all the actors are good, Raymond Burr as the father finds himself back home in the role of an overbearing villain, taking a pause from Perry Mason, Martha Hyer as Melinda is seductive and wicked enough, her father's true daughter, you can feel the sorely tried Ken Scott 's patience gradually bursting all through the film, but in spite of the shoot-out the finale is relatively mild. Fortunately there is a journalist and doctor at hand to get things straight.
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Nothing like the Sweet Bird of Youth to knock that cat off the hot tin roof.
mark.waltz11 November 2017
Warning: Spoilers
There should be a special genre name for dramas focusing on the so-called sweet southern life. Outside of the mint juleps, magnolia blossoms and happy servants being paid for serving their overly charming employers, there's the memory of slavery, the desire for power and the selfish Belle's that would gladly kill to get the man they want and the disillusioned or insane family matriarch hanging into a dream that never came true. The stories are sprawling and the characters colorful, but unfortunately, this black and white wide screen film is as dusty and depressing as the characters involved in the clichéd story.

Sharecropper's son Ken Scott has been released from a chain gang for an accidental death that he was not responsible for. Returning home, he finds out that the rich girl he loves (Martha Hyer) is engaged to marry doctor Brett Halsey. Her powerful father (Raymond Burr) has a hankering to be governor of Louisiana and wants no scandal shaking things up, so Scott's presence is quite unwelcome. Then, there's Joan Bennett as his seemingly mentally unhinged wife, clinging onto the belief that a dead son is alive. Knowledge of past scandals involving Burr's family has given Scott's father (Douglas Fowley in a part that Walter Brennan would have played 20 years before) an upper hand on retaining his land, so there's plenty of intrigue to be dealt with during the film's 100 minutes.

For the first 20 minutes of the film ("the grabber"), pretty much nothing of interest happens other than a generic introduction to the younger characters. It's obvious that Hyer is a spoiled, selfish modern belle, and that doesn't make her at all a leading character to sympathize with. Burr is the typical powerful blowhard, and while he has the charm that hides a nasty streak, he lacks the commanding southern presence that actors like Burl Ives and Ed Begley had. The wasted Joan Bennett is simply there for the big reveal and while still very attractive, lacks the moments in the script to really build to the big ball drop. Scott is definite eye candy but lacks the charisma of other young rebels with causes. This is one of those letdowns that seemed to have promise, but is basically a large steak where the juicy bits seem surrounded by fat. Trim that fat, and you end up with dog scraps.
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