Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Review: Desert Town

Desert Town Desert Town by Ramona Stewart
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A shorter version, serialized in two issues of Collier's magazine in 1945, was made into Desert Fury, a pretty good 1947 film noir that featured Burt Lancaster in the role of Tom Hansen, the ex-rodeo star turned sadistic deputy. The movie breaks free from Ramona Stewart's original plot and in all ways is more hard-edged and darker, especially in its conclusion. After the movie appeared, Stewart went back and expanded her original story into this novel length version, and she remained true to her original story line. Although the narrative roams freely from character to character, with enough back story and motivation to give all the characters arcs, the novel is clearly focused on 17-year old Paula's coming of age. To get there she must break free from her domineering mother, Fritzi, who has the sin business - the saloon, brothel, liquor store, casino - in the small town cornered, which effectively gives her control of the town, especially with the Sheriff on her payroll. But this criminal aspect is all back story and periphery and laid out in the first half of the novel. The story picks up in energy when Johnny and Eddie, two gangster types, roll into town. Paula quickly falls for the 40-something Eddie. Kisses are described and it is clear things go much further. And thus begins the battle of wills that takes up the rest of the novel as Stewart exploits two triangle relationships: Johnny, Paula, Eddie and Eddie, Paula, Fritzi. Although the novel has noir elements, it is not a noir in the way the film version is, and is much more focused on the relationships. The descriptive writing gets a bit over the top at times, but there's a lot of great scenes, and it's easy to see why the original magazine story was quickly picked up to be filmed. A Kindle version is available, so well worth checking out.

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