Starring: Tab Hunter, Divine, Lainie Kazan, Geoffrey Lewis, Henry Silva, Cesar Romero
Director: Paul Bartel
Mood: If you’ve had a few and have an overwhelming urge to watch something totally random like Lainie Kazan fighting Divine.
“Freeze, hombre, or I’ll be wearing your asshole for a garter.”
Marguerita Ventura (Lainie Kazan)
Sometimes you just need to watch a really f*cking ridiculous movie, and Lust in the Dust is about as ridiculous as you can get.
I spent my entire teens consuming trashy cult movies, to the point where my mom would drive me two towns over because we’d seen everything in the cult section of our local video store. This of course included the works of filthy drag legend Divine. So when I found out there was a Divine Western, I bought it 30 seconds later.
Lust in the Dust is technically a female-driven Western farce, which sounds great to me. Unfortunately, it doesn’t succeed in any of those categories.
Yes, the women are strong, and the comedy is mostly crude. But it’s nowhere near as filthy and raunchy (or funny) as the movies Divine made with John Waters. It’s more like the trailer park third cousin twice removed of Blazing Saddles… or a slightly less Jewish distant relative of Wagons East.
And that’s a huge waste of potential.
Lust in the Dust has a super-simple plot. Voluptuous “virgin” Rosie Velez (Divine) is lost in the desert, and begrudgingly rescued by a silent, poncho-wearing gunfighter (Tab Hunter). They arrive in the town of Chili Verde, and learn that there’s gold hidden somewhere nearby.
Rosie, the gunfighter, a brassy saloon owner Marguerita Ventura (Lainie Kazan), and a few bad guys all want to get their hands on that gold, but the secret location lies in a limerick. Who will win? Do any of these deviants actually deserve it?
Oh, and Rosie may or may not accidentally kill a couple of guys between her thighs along the way.
If you’re familiar with Divine and have at least read the DVD jacket, you know what you’re getting into before you watch Lust in the Dust.
I love me some dumb, perverse comedy. The problem here is that Lust in the Dust painted itself as delicious trash, but it’s actually TOO F*CKING CONSERVATIVE! It’s not really that dirty, or foul-mouthed, and toward the end it starts to feel more like a clumsy regular Western than a farce.
It’s like director Paul Bartel was trying too hard to avoid making – or be accused of making – a John Waters ripoff. You’ll only find the good in this movie if you’re a huge fan of either Divine or Lainie Kazan. Otherwise there’s no payoff, and you can stop reading right here.
All of Divine’s slapstick and cheek is fully present (pun intended, because Rosie’s butt is a major plot point). The first 10+ minutes of the movie are almost entirely carried by Divine’s steady stream of chatter, delivered in that effortless manner of a natural comedian who’s used to entertaining live audiences.
But even with her huge presence, Rosie is as close to a good guy as this movie gets, so Divine is repressed in the role and almost at times, dare I say it, normal.
Lainie Kazan totally steals the show as bawdy, in-your-face Marguerita. When she belted out the opening notes of her song ‘South of My Border’, I kid you not, my dog started f*cking howling. And he was outside.
Kazan fully embodies a rifle-toting, lip-licking, brawling badass diva. She’s one of those highly enjoyable actors who delivers her comedy from head to toe, and lives in every moment. And even in this weird movie that she must have known wasn’t going anywhere, she’s hamming it up with every fibre of her being. Honestly, it’s worth a watch just to see her fight Divine.
- Fun Facts: Lainie Kazan has done Broadway, Hollywood, and every type of TV from sitcoms to reality shows – and released eight albums over three decades. Hell, she went to highschool with (and later understudied for) Barbara Streisand, and appeared in university classmate Francis Ford Coppola’s theatrical productions. She’s literally done it all.
The pint-sized, elderly saloon gal Big Ed is played with achingly endearing charm by character actor Nedra Volz. Her performance is so sweet you stop caring about anything else in the movie except her dream of going to Abilene. This is a woman who got her start in acting as a senior, and appeared in every popular TV show of the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Tab Hunter holds his own throughout all this female trouble as the laconic gunfighter named Able Wood. He squints well, I’ll give him that. Unfortunately, he’s basically just a one-dimensional Clint Eastwood caricature. It starts out funny, but quickly gets stale when it goes nowhere.
Henry Silva and Geoffrey Lewis both play ‘bad guys’ who are no worse than Rosie and Marguerita. Cesar Romero is a priest with none of his usual over-the-top zaniness; he could be removed from the plot and it would make no difference. And if you blink you’ll miss appearances by the legendary Woody Strode and Rio Bravo’s Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez.
Lust in the Dust seemed like it was going to give me all kinds of mondo-trasho nostalgia, but it didn’t. I don’t hate it though, because it never pretended to be some award-winning theatrical experience. Plus, I really enjoyed Lainie Kazan. My overall consensus is that it’s just forgettable.
If you’re a niche weirdo like me who was hoping for a hidden Western gem that scratches that draggy, cult movie itch – I guess we’ll have to keep digging.