The Fugitives – Rediscovering ‘Dust Be My Destiny’ (US 1939 – 88 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - December 17, 2014
The Fugitives – Rediscovering ‘Dust Be My Destiny’ (US 1939 – 88 mins)

1939 may be the greatest year in movie history. As well as the perennial classics ‘Gone with the Wind’ and ‘The Wizard of Oz’, there was John Ford’s ‘Stagecoach’, and the doomed melodrama’s ‘Wuthering Heights’, and ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’. All great movies in a wonderfully overcrowded year. One of that years now forgotten pictures is ‘Dust Be My Destiny’, a nifty couple-on-the-run feature that has all but been forgotten.

Released from prison after serving time for a crime he didn’t commit, Joe Bell (John Garfield) gets into a fight and is soon carted off to a prison work farm. Whilst working on the rock pile he finds himself attracted to the foreman’s lovely stepdaughter Mabel (Priscilla Lane), and before long they fall in love. During a fight with the foreman, Joe escapes the farm and runs off with Mabel to get married. When the foreman dies from heart failure, Joe is wrongfully suspected of his murder, and a manhunt soon follows.

John Garfield was a master at playing down-on-your-luck drifters, and here he has one of his first meaty roles as the cynical Joe. Making his memorable debut the previous year in the enjoyable romancer ‘Four Daughters (also with Priscilla Lane), Garfield would soon make his mark as a screen tough guy in some excellent features, including ‘Out of the Fog’ (’41) and ‘Body and Soul’ (’47), before his untimely death in 1952 aged just 39. 24 year old Priscilla Lane had one of her best roles here as Mabel, the sweet girl who falls for Joe’s put-upon tough guy. Lane would go on to star in another man-on-the-run movie; Hitchcock’s 1942 classic ‘Saboteur’, and in a change of pace played Cary Grant’s bride-to-be in Frank Capra’s frantic black comedy ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ (’44). At just 33, Lane would retire from the screen in 1948 to settle into family life.

Director Lewis Seiler later made the Phil Silvers comedy ‘You’re in the Army Now’ (’41) and the cult prison flick ‘Women’s Prison’ (’55) with Ida Lupino. The screenplay was by the future director of ‘The Hustler’ (’61); Robert Rossen, who was unhappy that his original downbeat ending was changed to a more happier one.

‘Dust Be My Destiny’ is an exciting couple-on-the-run melodrama that’s made better by the performances of the two leads, especially Lane’s very appealing turn as Garfield’s loyal gal. With its thought-provoking title and Thirties social commentary, ‘Dust Be My Destiny’ is a fast moving drama that’s well worth tracking down.

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