Review: The Desert Hawk (1950)

Arriving during the heyday of Universal's exotic adventure film oeuvre, The Desert Hawk stars Yvonne De Carlo, who takes top billing over Richard Greene, the titular Desert Hawk--a Robin Hood of the Middle Eastern sands. It's a testament to the sheer star power of Ms. De Carlo, who was one of the most bankable stars at the studio and who gone from an uncredited player to the first name on the marquee in only four short years. The Desert Hawk was released just a few months after Buccaneer's Girl, which had followed closely on the heels of The Gal Who Took The West, and...well, you get the idea. 

These desert adventure films were a dime a dozen during the 1940s and into the 1950s. They often follow a particular, well-proven formula involving an outlaw or some royal figure in disguise who must overthrow corruption with the help of a plucky band of rebels. They're full of swashbuckling sword fights, romance, and light comedy. Generally, they follow the pattern laid out in movies like 1939's The Adventures of Robin Hood but with a change of scenery that replaces medieval castles with palaces and green forests with sands. While the many Universal-International films from the era can feel interchangeable, that's not to say they aren't enjoyable. With lean running times (77 minutes, in this case) and plots that are perfect for a Saturday matinee, they ask little of us; they're approachable and easy to appreciate.

I've now mentioned Robin Hood twice. The Desert Hawk tells us that Richard Green's character Omar, aka The Desert Hawk himself, robbed from the rich and fought for the people. Is it coincidence or inspiration that he would later be cast as the famous bandit of Sherwood Forest for 1955's The Adventures of Robin Hood television series, a role he played until 1960 and then reprised that same year in Hammer's big screen outing Sword of Sherwood Forest

Another key factor in the success of these smaller studio films is the cast of contract players that routinely fill out the call sheet. The Desert Hawk features future Three Stooges actor--and hilarious comedian in his own rite--Joe Besser and soon-to-be-iconic Jackie Gleason, who was just a couple of years away from the Ralph Kramden character that would make him a superstar on The Honeymooners. Even though these movies are "Arabian Adventure" films set in the Middle East, Gleason makes no attempt to alter his Brooklyn accent. Historical and cultural accuracy is not at the top of the priority list here. 


For me, the biggest draw of The Desert Hawk is Yvonne De Carlo, whom I consider to be one of the most radiant performers in the entire Golden Age of Hollywood. Like so many others of my generation, I first came to know her as Lily Munster in the 1960s camp classic TV series The Munsters, and for many years, the only other performance I knew from her was in De Mille's The Ten Commandments. Discovering the dozens of films that she made as a leading lady has been endlessly rewarding and she's become one of my all-time favorites. I even own her 1957 album Yvonne De Carlo Sings. Sidebar: like so many other actors in Hollywood, De Carlo spent her later years working in television, not just in The Munsters but appearing in many shows as the guest star of the week. Whenever she pops up on an episode of Bonanza or Fantasy Island, I'm delighted. 

The Desert Hawk makes a Blu-ray debut in Imprint's region-free Tales of Adventure Collection I box set, which I can't recommend highly enough. It sits alongside other mid-century exotic adventure films and features extensive extras; in the case of this film, two audio commentaries and a featurette on Jeff Chandler (who provides the opening narration of The Desert Hawk) at Universal. 

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