Escape in the Desert


1h 19m 1945
Escape in the Desert

Brief Synopsis

In this remake of The Petrified Forest, Nazi spies infiltrate a hotel in the American Southwest.

Film Details

Also Known As
Men Without Destiny, Strangers in Our Midst
Genre
Adventure
Crime
Adaptation
Release Date
May 19, 1945
Premiere Information
New York opening: 11 May 1945
Production Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the play The Petrified Forest by Robert E. Sherwood (New York, 7 Jan 1935).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 19m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7,124ft

Synopsis

While on a mission to destroy a Japanese oil refinery, pilot Phillip Artveld remembers his first visit to the United States in 1944: After his country, the Netherlands, is liberated, Phillip volunteers to fight in the Pacific. In order to see some of the country, he decides to hitchhike to San Francisco, from where he will leave for the East. Meanwhile, four Nazi prisoners of war escape into the California desert. Although motorists are warned not to pick up hitchhikers, Phillip gets a ride from Gramp, the owner of the Land's End motel and gas station near Death Valley. When Phillip makes a statement in German, Gramp concludes that he is one of the escaped prisoners and takes him into custody at gunpoint. Waiting at the motel are Gramp's beautiful granddaughter Jane, her younger brother Danny and station attendant Hank Albright, who is in love with Jane. Hank summons the sheriff, but Jane quickly discovers Phillip's real identity, and overjoyed at finding someone who shares her interest in painting and literature, begs him to take her to San Francisco. Realizing that Jane would leave with any man who would take her, Phillip replies that he will travel on alone. Nonetheless, Jane kisses Phillip and is seen by Hank, who jealously picks a fight with Phillip. Phillip then walks back up the road to wait for a ride. He is picked up by the escaped Nazis, who have already killed several people for their clothes and cars. When they learn about the motel, the Nazis return there, hoping to acquire guns. Captain Becker, the leader of the Nazis, plans to kill the men and take Jane as a hostage, but his plans are interrupted by the arrival of the sheriff, who is responding to Hank's earlier summons. Becker pretends to be Phillip, and Jane goes along with his charade to protect the others. Later, tourists Dr. Orville Tedder, a dentist, and his wife Lora stop at the motel, and Becker takes them prisoner in order to steal their car. His plans are thwarted, however, because the car is not full of gas, and the Nazis must wait for the midnight gas delivery. When the truck approaches, Jane calls out a warning, but the Nazis shoot the driver. After they fill up the tank of the car and drive off, the car crashes and explodes. Although all the Nazis manage to escape, the explosion attracts the attention of the sheriff, and a gunfight ensues. Becker tells Phillip, who is outside with the sheriff's men, that he will kill his hostages unless he and his men are allowed to go free. In order to prevent this, Phillip throws a dynamite fuse into the room and, mistaking it for a bomb, the Nazis run outside and are captured.

Film Details

Also Known As
Men Without Destiny, Strangers in Our Midst
Genre
Adventure
Crime
Adaptation
Release Date
May 19, 1945
Premiere Information
New York opening: 11 May 1945
Production Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the play The Petrified Forest by Robert E. Sherwood (New York, 7 Jan 1935).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 19m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7,124ft

Articles

Escape in the Desert


Warner Bros. in the 1930s had no office called 'story recycle center,' but they functioned as if one existed. It was common practice to remake story properties, often in just the space of a few years. Several favored stories were remade twice. 1945's Escape in the Desert was easily identified by most viewers as exactly what it is, a reworking of the storyline of the Bette Davis and Leslie Howard hit The Petrified Forest (1936), updated to replace gangster Humphrey Bogart with an escaped German flyer (Helmut Dantine). A new prologue explains how fugitive Nazis hole up at the remote Last Chance Motel. Howard's philosophical poet-drifter is now a Dutch pilot that old Gramp (Samuel S. Hinds) mistakes for an enemy escapee. Wartime rationing strands them all at the tiny desert oasis - Gramp's gasoline shipment isn't due for a couple of days. Departing from the original play by Robert E. Sherwood, the screenplay by Marvin Borowsky and Thomas Job elects to have Dantine and his German henchmen Rudolph Anders & Kurt Kreuger deliver frequent hateful Fascist speeches extolling the superiority of the Aryan race. This is the last of three WB movies made by young Jean Sullivan, who had been hired directly from UCLA just the year before. Sullivan's thankless assignment is to take over the café waitress performed so memorably by Bette Davis. The reviews reserved most criticism for the film's incessant political speechifying, as by 1945 audiences were tiring of Nazis spouting hate messages like, 'Tomorrow the world!' They also took exception to the comedy relief supplied by the stalled tourists played by Alan Hale and Irene Manning, a quack dentist and his bickering wife. Variety complained that the film's tension falls apart on their arrival, "as if they wandered into the wrong sound stage and just stayed there." Warners may have been attempting to establish Manning and Hale as a comedy duo; they had just served the same function in the previous year's Make Your Own Bed, a farce about a wealthy couple dealing with the wartime servant shortage.

By Glenn Erickson
Escape In The Desert

Escape in the Desert

Warner Bros. in the 1930s had no office called 'story recycle center,' but they functioned as if one existed. It was common practice to remake story properties, often in just the space of a few years. Several favored stories were remade twice. 1945's Escape in the Desert was easily identified by most viewers as exactly what it is, a reworking of the storyline of the Bette Davis and Leslie Howard hit The Petrified Forest (1936), updated to replace gangster Humphrey Bogart with an escaped German flyer (Helmut Dantine). A new prologue explains how fugitive Nazis hole up at the remote Last Chance Motel. Howard's philosophical poet-drifter is now a Dutch pilot that old Gramp (Samuel S. Hinds) mistakes for an enemy escapee. Wartime rationing strands them all at the tiny desert oasis - Gramp's gasoline shipment isn't due for a couple of days. Departing from the original play by Robert E. Sherwood, the screenplay by Marvin Borowsky and Thomas Job elects to have Dantine and his German henchmen Rudolph Anders & Kurt Kreuger deliver frequent hateful Fascist speeches extolling the superiority of the Aryan race. This is the last of three WB movies made by young Jean Sullivan, who had been hired directly from UCLA just the year before. Sullivan's thankless assignment is to take over the café waitress performed so memorably by Bette Davis. The reviews reserved most criticism for the film's incessant political speechifying, as by 1945 audiences were tiring of Nazis spouting hate messages like, 'Tomorrow the world!' They also took exception to the comedy relief supplied by the stalled tourists played by Alan Hale and Irene Manning, a quack dentist and his bickering wife. Variety complained that the film's tension falls apart on their arrival, "as if they wandered into the wrong sound stage and just stayed there." Warners may have been attempting to establish Manning and Hale as a comedy duo; they had just served the same function in the previous year's Make Your Own Bed, a farce about a wealthy couple dealing with the wartime servant shortage. By Glenn Erickson

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The film's working titles were Strangers in Our Midst and Men Without Destiny. According to an undated press release, the film was originally to star Paul Lukas and Geraldine Fitzgerald. A May 10, 1944 press release announced Zachary Scott as the male lead. On June 18, 1944, a New York Times news item reported that Lukas had been suspended for turning down the role, and Scott was unable to play the part because of illness. The same article notes that the film's desert setting was built on a studio sound stage. Robert Sherwood's play was also the basis for the 1936 Warner Bros. film The Petrified Forest, which starred Bette Davis and Leslie Howard and was directed by Archie Mayo (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.3433). A television version of the play starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall was made in 1955.