Yvonne De Carlo and Richard Grenne star as a feisty princess and a do-gooder desert guerrilla in this brisk but largely enjoyable 1950s fantasy adventure romp from Universal Pictures.
Set 2,000 years ago, Grenne plays Omar aka The Desert Hawk, a lowly blacksmith and unlikely hero who demands justice under the oppressive, violent regime of Prince Murad (George Macready). Murad's tyrannical rule of central Persia has crippled the population with heavy taxation and in a bid to dominate the region further he's arranged a marriage with De Carlo's Princess Scheherazade, the daughter of the Caliph of Baghdad (Donald Randolph). But Omar, along with his money scamming friends Aladdin (Jackie Gleason) and Sinbad (Joe Besser), disguise themselves as Murad and his entourage in order to steal the wedding gifts and marry the princess instead. Predictably, the plan has disastrous results and once the prince and princess uncover Omar's trick they both demand his head. A series of kidnaps, rescues, double crossings, sword fights and subterfuges ensue all culminating to a four-way standoff in the decadent Palace of a Thousand Delights.
Although it doesn't emulate the artistry of The Thief of Bagdad (1940) or Arabian Nights (1942), The Desert Hawk remains consistently engaging throughout its slim 77-minute runtime. For a fantastical romp such as this, the plot is surprisingly elaborate and packed full of twists and turns; sometimes events do become overly convoluted and even clunky (especially in its unhistorical use of Muslims) but it never loses its amicable charm.
The film benefits from an interesting and talented cast, including an array of starting out performers like Hollywood heartthrob Rock Hudson who shows glimmers of his future stardom as the ill-fated Captain Ras. Comedic actor Jackie Gleason also stars as Omar's confusingly named accomplice Aladdin, although unfortunately he's given little screen time and even fewer gags to work with. De Carlo puts in the most impressive performance; she creates a fiery, capable, textured female character who avoids the submissive trappings of a typical princess, despite a disappointingly conformist ending. Greene is also convincing as the titular loveable rogue in what is basically a direct audition for the Robin Hood televisual role he would become renowned for.
The film is competently shot by Fredrick De Cordova, best known for his work on Bedtime for Bonzo (1951), and the costuming is particularly striking; The Desert Hawk's distinctive red cloak and the Princess' elegant, bright costumes particularly stand out on the film's lush Technicolor. While the studio-bound scenes are mostly built around unconvincing painted canvases and the acrobatic work is often badly choreographed and rather anticlimactic, if considered as a mid-budget product of its time, it holds its own.
Notable for its starry cast, adventurous plot and eye-catching costumes, The Desert Hawk is the kind of breezy film that lazy Sunday afternoons are made for.
THE DESERT HAWK / CERT: U / DIRECTOR: FREDRICK DE CORDOVA / SCREENPLAY: AUBREY WISBERG, GERALD DRAYSON ADAMS, JACK POLLEXFEN / STARRING: YVONNE DE CARLO, RICHARD GREENE, JACKIE GLEASON, GEORGE MACREADY, ROCK HUDSON / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW