Rosie Velez (Divine) is riding through the New Mexico desert when her ass stumbles and she is thrown to the ground, accidentally uncorking her supply of gin in the process. Now with nothing to drink she begins to panic, but as luck would have it there is a watering hole nearby where she and her faltering transport can satisfy themselves - she even goes for a swim. But she is being observed by a mysterious figure who doesn't speak, yet has noted something about her appearance; after shooting down a vulture for her to eat, he goes on his way, but Rosie follows, knowing she must reach Chili Verde...
Lust in the Dust wasn't the first film not directed by John Waters to feature Divine, but it was probably his most famous appearance outside of those trash classics, though that did not necessarily mean it was one of his better ones, in spite of the almost as cult-y Paul Bartel on directing duties here. The problem was the script, for while there was a willing cast of famous faces the material from television scribe Philip John Taylor seemed to frequently forget it was meant to be a spoof, and what resulted was a Western that with a few minor tweaks could just as well have been played straight, with no winks to the audience whatsoever.
Certainly there were moments where that cast thought they had a funny line they could do something with, but they tended to fall flat with only the arch delivery an indication that what had just happened was intended as parody. This was no Blazing Saddles, that was for sure, which was a shame as you had the impression if Bartel had penned the screenplay there might have been a few more bright passages rather than the uninspired plod through supposedly outrageous but actually very ordinary jokes and situations. When the cliché about the map to the hidden gold being tattooed on the arses of the leading ladies had been better achieved in the Dick Emery vehicle Ooh... You are Awful then you had an idea of the failings.
Once Rosie reaches the small town of her destination, ostensibly to become a saloon singer - there are a couple of musical numbers somewhat halfheartedly interrupting the action - she has already had quite an adventure, having been waylaid by a bunch of outlaws who took sexual advantage of her. That bit introduces some business about Rosie's ability to break necks and other things with her thighs, which was a step in the right comedy direction but otherwise did little to contribute to a sense of fun. When Lainie Kazan enters as the saloon owner Marguerita, you might have hoped for sparks to fly between her and Divine, but the wisecracks remain muted in spite of the personalities of the performers.
The Clint Eastwood-esque stranger (he even wears a The Good, the Bad and the Ugly costume) is Abel Wood, played by former teen crush Tab Hunter who apparently had enjoyed working with Divine on Polyester and thought this would rekindle some of that far funnier movie's magic. He's a no-nonsense hero, a sharpshooter out for the treasure, but he doesn't get one funny line, essaying the straight man role when even Clint in his Westerns would include witty dialogue for purposes of sardonic humour. Also appearing were Cesar Romero as the town priest, geting little to do until the end, Henry Silva as a rival for Abel who is despatched with far too early, and Woody Strode who gets a grand total of one line. That's what's frustrating, they assembled all these distinctive talents and squandered them on what may as well have been a third rate Spaghetti Western for all the inspiration on offer. It burbled along unexceptionally when it should have been so much more. Music by Peter Matz.