Cast & Crew
Outside Death Valley, prospector Leatherface Bates reveals to his partner, Ford Smith, that he recently spotted three Arab men on camels and drunkenly informed them about Ford's recent gold strike. Ford, who gathered the gold solely to woo his girl friend, Betsy Blake, is happy to use this as an excuse to return to his hometown of San Bernardino, California to see her. Before he leaves the camp, however, the prospectors receive a visitor, Mary Smith, a former blackjack dealer who is returning to San Bernardino after being falsely accused of cheating in Carson City. Although Ford is at first reluctant to travel with a woman, he eventually insists that she join him for her own safety. Immediately after they leave camp, the Arabs--Hassan, Ghazili and Kafan--kill Leatherface while searching for the gold. Finding none, they follow Ford and Mary's tracks into the desert, heedless of the fact that they are out of ammunition. That night, Mary impresses Ford with her ability to start a fire and cook appetizing camp food. When Ford mentions his girl friend, Mary hesitantly informs him that she grew up with Betsy and recently attended her wedding. Ford hides his grief and they retire to bed. By morning, the Arabs catch up with them and Kafan offers to sell them his camel. Ford and Mary run, but Ford is soon slowed by his horse, which is overburdened by gold. Ford then walks alongside the horse, which slows them enough to allow the Arabs to continually catch and torment them, although with no bullets, the thieves are not seriously threatening. At a watering hole, Kafan grabs Mary's unloaded pistol, but as they flee, Hassan drops his rifle and Ford takes it. When Ford and Mary stop for the night, they kiss before going to sleep. The next day, Ford is forced to put his horse down. They trudge across the desert for days, hallucinating about water until they finally find an actual water source. There, Ford notices camel tracks, and instructs Mary to continue on with the horse and gold while he diverts the Arabs on a separate path. The plan works, and when the thieves follow Ford into the mountains, he fights them off by throwing rocks and shooting at them. Along the way, however, Ford drops a handful of bullets, which Kafan uses to load his rifle. Ford eventually escapes over the mountain and meets a relieved Mary on the other side. Soon after, they stumble onto an Indian village. Although there is a language barrier, Mary sees the tribe holding a Catholic service and realizes it is Christmas Eve. The mass is interrupted by the Arabs on camels, whom the Indians mistake for the Three Wise Men. The next day, however, the chief brings back a brave who speaks English, and Ford explains his predicament. In exchange for some gold, the Indians send a brave to show Ford and Mary a shortcut to San Bernardino. On the way, the thieves track them down again and a gunfight breaks out. With the brave helping, Ford throws both Kafan and Hassan off the cliff, and Ghazili flees. The brave then leads them to the shortcut, and as Ford and Mary take off down the trail together, he remarks how lucky it is that she will not have to change her name when they marry.
W. Scott Darling
Leonard W. Herman
Edward J. Kay
Desert Pursuit -
But coming first was the Monogram release Desert Pursuit (1952), a wilderness chase story set in 1870. In W. Scott Darling's screenplay adaptation, prospector Ford Smith (Wayne Morris) and Reno blackjack dealer Mary Smith (Virginia Grey) meet in the open desert. She's on the run after being accused of cheating, and he's on the way to the bank with the gold he panned from a Nevada stream. The vulnerable couple are pursued by a band of Arabs using camels, purportedly the descendants of foreigners imported to teach proper camel-tending. They've now become ruthless bandits.
Highly suited for a night of film programming about negative images of minorities in cinema, Desert Pursuit gives us actors George Tobias, Anthony Caruso and John Doucette as duplicitous Arabs with "sinister" names like Hassan, Kafan and Ghazili. Pursuers and the pursued play tag in the chase across the desert, with Mary becoming Ford's girl after she realizes that she attended the wedding of the sweetheart for whom he's been saving himself. John receives some aid from the local Native Americans, among them actors Frank Lackteen and young Gloria Talbott.
Reviewers in 1952 weren't kind to Desert Pursuit, indicating that cowboys and camels were not likely to click as a commercial combination. They complained about the story's lack of action, not its ethnic insensitivity. The desert cinematography in Lone Pine and Olancha Dunes did garner some praise. All noted the episode in which the Native Americans, apparently exposed to Christian teachings, initially mistake the camel-mounted Arab marauders for the Three Wise Men of the nativity story.
The talent behind Desert Pursuit is a portrait of postwar Hollywood in transition. Ex-studio contractees Virginia Grey and Wayne Morris spent the '50s scrambling for work, finding most of it on television. Former Navy Air ace Morris is credited as an associate producer on the film as well. Best remembered for his late-career performance in Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory (1957), Morris found himself in diminishing parts and died unexpectedly seven years later, at age 45. Director George Blair enjoyed a prolific career in B-pictures for outfits like Monogram and Republic, but after Desert Pursuit he almost immediately turned to episodic TV work. His last feature film was the quirky exploitation shocker The Hypnotic Eye (1960).
By Glenn Erickson
Desert Pursuit -
The working titles of this film were Starlight and Starlight Canyon. A written onscreen foreword explains that Jefferson Davis organized the American Camel Corps during the Civil War to map the southern route across the deserts of Texas into California. When the railroad came, the corps was disbanded and some of the camels escaped into the desert. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, producer Lindsley Parsons bought the Blue Book Magazine story "Horse Thieves' Hosana" in July 1951. Additional Hollywood Reporter news items state that the film was shot on location in Death Valley, CA and in the Sierra Mountains. A November 1951 item adds Elizabeth Root to the cast, but her appearance in the final film has not been confirmed.