In the ancient east Princess Scheherazade (Yvonne De Carlo) has been promised in marriage to the wicked Prince Murad (George Macready). However the mysterious Desert Hawk (Richard Greene), a hero of the people, has different ideas and sets about saving the princess by donning a disguise and marrying her himself, with predictably disastrous results.
There was a time – before television took hold as the preferred entertainment medium for the viewing masses – when cinema ruled, particularly as a place for parents to send kids on a Saturday morning if they wanted them out of the house. To fill the insatiable demand for a constantly changing programme of films that this inevitably created, Hollywood churned out even more material than it does today. Most cinema’s showed films in double bills – the main feature and a minor one, usually shown first, and often of inferior quality.
Many of these supporting features acted as starting blocks for future stars. In Hollywood where they didn’t believe so much in the strength of repertory theatre – the preferred choice for countless British stars during the 1940s and 1950s to get experience before breaking into films – the best way to get a foothold on the industry ladder was to appear in the endless stream of ‘B’ movies which the big studio’s like Universal churned out. The Desert Hawk, made by that studio’s dependable director of choice, Frederick De Cordova, was no exception. Though its stars were heralded as Richard Greene – the British actor, often dubbed the poor man’s Errol Flynn, who achieved his biggest success as Robin Hood in the 1950’s British television series of the same name – and Yvonne (The Munsters) De Carlo, it was actually future heartthrob Rock Hudson for whom the film is now best remembered. Playing a relatively minor character who is despatched with unceremoniously not long into the action, Hudson showed glimmers of his future stardom and his performance – apart from some glaringly fake backdrops – is one of the film’s most memorable facets.
Looking at The Desert Hawk now, it would be easy to pick holes in it. Even by the dubious standards of the swashbuckling / fantasy / western adventures produced during the late 1940s and early 1950s in Hollywood, this film is cheesy in the extreme, with a plot which runs around, repeating itself in ever decreasing circles. The acting – even from the aforementioned stars – is hardly Oscar worthy, whilst little attempt seems to have been made to try and hide the fact that most of the sets were built around painted canvases: the one highlight here is the palace of one of the film’s main villains which rises above the desert in an awe inspiring vision ominously familiar to that of Jaba the Hutt’s lair in Return of the Jedi (1983). Also, for a film so clearly aimed at younger audiences, its often campish, cartoon violence sits uncomfortably at times with flashes of unsubtly inferred sadism.
However, with its gaudy costumes and feats of daring do which are entered into with undeniable gusto and enthusiasm, it’s hard to dismiss The Desert Hawk out-of-hand. Though, as an example of a period adventure from the twilight years of Hollywood’s ‘Golden Age’ it hardly soars, the film none-the-less offers diverting entertainment if you’ve nothing better to do on a Saturday morning.
The Desert Hawk is out now, released on DVD in the UK by Simply Media.
Director: Frederick De Cordova
Writers: Aubrey Wisberg, Gerald Drayson Adams, Jack Pollexfen (story and screenplay)
Stars: Richard Greene, Yvonne De Carlo, Rock Hudson, George Macready
Runtime: 75 mins