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  Desert Hawk, The Omar Goodness
Year: 1950
Director: Frederick De Cordova
Stars: Yvonne De Carlo, Richard Greene, Jackie Gleason, George Macready, Rock Hudson, Carl Esmond, Joe Besser, Anne P. Kramer, Marc Lawrence, Lois Andrews, Frank Puglia, Lucille Barkley, Donald Randolph, Ian MacDonald
Genre: Romance, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Two thousand years ago, the region of Persia was in the grip of a cruel and tyrannical Prince, Murad (George Macready), who ruled over his reluctant subjects with an iron fist, taxing them so badly that they were forced to scrabble around for funds to live day by day. But there was one defender of the people, and he was Omar, known as The Desert Hawk (Richard Greene), a mysterious figure who would steal from the tax collectors and give back the money to the citizens who had given it up in the first place. He always kept his face hidden so as to preserve his identity, and his usual activity was what he was getting on with tonight, fighting Murad's men and seeing them off, though he actually had a grander plan than that for he had his sights set upon the Princess Scheherazade (Yvonne De Carlo) who the Prince wished to marry...

There was a lot of plot to get through in an hour and a quarter of Arabian Nights nonsense, one which made a bit of an error in its setting, and might be the best known thing about the film: although set slightly before the time of Christ, all the characters were Muslims some six hundred years before the time of the Prophet Mohammed, a neat trick that suggested some time travelling was going on, or more likely a set of screenwriters who didn't have the time or inclination to check their history books. So when Omar quoted from the Qur'an, he could have been possessed of sight beyond sight, but it was more apparent that the opening narration (spoken by Jeff Chandler) was penned in a hurry and the "Two thousand years ago" comment it begins with was a good example of how quickly B-movies such as this were made, it really was a production line in Hollywood.

As with many of the Arabian Nights efforts of the day, the most effort was in the visuals and to present them as vividly as possible Technicolor was used to show off the brightly hued sets and costumes. The more colourful these were, the greater the chance the audience would be whisked away by the whole fantasy of the production and by casting the strapping Greene (soon to be Robin Hood on television, and obviously practicing for that here) and the comely De Carlo the audience members could imagine themselves in the role of one or the other, whisked away on flights of fancy to another realm from long ago. Even so, what could have been languorous and indulgent was more of a rip-roaring adventure of the kind that now looks archetypal, much in the way Star Wars would in its various forms when you had good and evil clearly delineated, heroes and villains and a Princess to romance.

It was an interesting cast supporting Greene and De Carlo, with perennial, scar-faced bad guy George Macready sporting a remarkable beard, Rock Hudson as a Captain of the Guard, future least-loved Stooge Joe Besser as Sinbad and Jackie Gleason as Aladdin, almost thin and like the director Frederick De Cordova about to become a huge success in television. There were as ever with this genre strong hints of the fetishist elements that were never overt but simmered under the surface, so when Princess Scheherazade is kidnapped by Murad with her ladies in waiting and all of them claim to be royalty to save her (shades of the dramatic climax of Spartacus at the other end of the decade), naturally they are tied up and tortured - or almost tortured at least, for most of them. In the main it was silly fun with a slight edge, listen to the insults in the florid dialogue: "Jackal!", "Hyena!", "Impudent wretch!", "Snivelling coward!", basically all the sort of things that people now say as parody of this strain of entertainment but here played straight, or at least with the winking to the audience less than blatant. Lots of fun if you want to immerse yourself in old time shenanigans. Music by Frank Skinner.

[Simply Media's Region 2 DVD is bare bones, but looks and sounds perfectly acceptable.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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