For a film that offers simple enjoyable entertainment you could do far worse than watch the release (for the first time on DVD, along with a number of others in a series of Universal studio movies) of The Desert Hawk, a fantasy adventure of sand strewn swordplay shenanigans and sneaky subterfuge.
One thousand years ago, central Persia has fallen under the increasingly tyrannical rule of the self declared Prince Murad (George Macready) who constantly threatens the people living within his dominion, demanding their loyalty and their taxes. What the people need is a champion – maybe someone like Robin Hood or even Zorro! Fortunately there is such a hero in the realm, in the shape of The Desert Hawk (Richard Greene) who demands justice and desires that the people rise against oppression in these violent times. The Desert Hawk is wanted by the Prince for his various misdemeanours so he must keep his true identity a secret; in order to implement his plans he sports a red cloak and confidently wields his sword in the heat of battle against the oppressive forces of Murad and any minions erroneously executing the prince’s nefarious schemes. The results of these endeavours have led to an extremely large bounty upon the Hawk’s head. This hero of the people is, in fact, blacksmith Omar who, along with his money scamming scoundrels but good hearted friends Aladdin (Jackie Gleason) and Sinbad (Joe Besser) seek justice for all. Prince Murad, in his desire to dominate the region, wishes to obtain the hand of the beautiful Princess Scheherazade (Yvonne De Carlo) in marriage; she is daughter of the Caliph of Baghdad (Donald Randolph) and Murad has already sent a sizeable dowry in anticipation. But the Hawk is ahead of this game and, disguised as the prince, marries the princess instead. But nuptial rewards and a safe future are not a solution for the Hawk and multiple games, battles of wits, kidnaps, disguises and subterfuge ensue. Even the reliably criminal League of Assassins, in their sumptuous and decadent Palace of A Thousand Delights, cannot rely on the villainous plans of Murad, as much as he cannot rely on their own suitably dubious attempts at wealth, stealth and power.
Frederick de Cordova became one of Universal Pictures’ mid budget film directors who could be relied upon to produce imaginative A grade B-movies that provided his audiences with enjoyable entertainment, whether the genre be drama, action or comedy. You may remember him for the film he made the year after this one: Bedtime for Bonzo (1951) starring a chimp.. and Ronald Reagan. His versatility made him ideal for taking the helm on The Desert Hawk, a story that combined the adventure and action of his westerns with scenes of comedy amidst the scurrilous plans and deceitful guises. Very much a product of its time both through its narrative and some elements of its depiction of women, despite the Princess being presented as feisty and capable, and other cultures (its political correctness leaves something to be desired) this is nevertheless a well structured story that mixes its less acceptable (to modern tastes) pleasures with a rip-roaring adventure. The film is wonderfully shot and the costuming, particularly, is exquisite and appears very much to be designed to match the lush Technicolor – how many disguises can Omar sport and how many different dresses can Princess Scheherazade fashion? The studio bound elements reflect this visual style (partly to enhance the use of colour cinematography) with model and matte shots that place the story its exotic setting. The action scenes recall those of Western films with horse riding adversaries fighting with great aplomb, only this time with swords and scimitars. The scenes with Richard Greene doing his Douglas Fairbanks style acrobatic work and swordsmanship are thrilling.
A swashbuckling romp, The Desert Hawk, taken from the right perspective, is short in length but epic in scale; fully entertaining and suitable for all ages. With assassins, tyrants, beggars, scamsters and revolutionaries engaging in action, swordplay and subterfuge, don’t analyse, just enjoy.