Cast & Crew
While crossing the desert in ancient Arabia, a merchant's caravan under the escort of Roman soldier Capt. Verrus comes across a beautiful, unconscious woman tied to a post. Over the objections of the merchant, who fears the plague, Verrus frees the woman and allows her to recover in the merchant's private transport. After the Chaldean physician pronounces the woman healthy, the merchant, who is shipping spices, gold and other valuables to Alexandria, invites her to travel with him as his pampered guest, in exchange for sexual favors. Although flirtatious, the woman is noncommittal, but when Verrus accuses her of distracting his men and threatens to expel her from the caravan, she allows the merchant to intercede on her behalf. The next day at a small oasis, a group of Judean religious refugees asks to join the caravan, and Verrus agrees, despite the merchant's fears that the strangers will bring trouble. Verrus then interrogates the woman about her past, but she reveals only that she calls herself Isthar. Later, when a dust storm hits, Verrus orders Isthar into a tent for protection, but she resists, confessing to a deep hatred of Roman soldiers. Immediately after, however, she flirts with Verrus' handsome young lieutenant, Fabius Justinian Quintus. At the same time, the merchant complains to Verrus about the refugees, whose appearance, he claims, is a bad omen. Verrus dismisses the merchant's concerns, and once the storm abates, the caravan resumes its journey to Alexandria. On the way, the merchant questions the physician about the refugees, and in particular, the infant boy in their care. While saying little, the physician does not deny that he was once a member of King Herod's court and informed the ruler about the coming of an infant messiah, for whom Herod is now offering a large reward. The merchant then pays Rais, the caravan's Arab scout, to deliver a secret message to some "friends" camped a short distance away. Concerned that the Romans will attempt to stop Rais, the merchant pays Isthar to distract Fabius, the guard on duty. That night, Rais slips away after Isthar lures the smitten Fabius into her tent. Verrus catches Fabius in an embrace and berates Isthar for her deed, but she is unmoved. The next day, a group of soldiers sent by Herod intercepts the caravan and demands the refugees. Verrus refuses, citing Herod's lack of authority in the region, but Herod's men vow to return. Later, Verrus orders that Fabius be whipped for his negligence, and witnessing Fabius' pain and humiliation, a guilt-ridden Isthar threatens to expose the merchant's scheming to the captain. After the merchant, who has received a reply to his message and is planning to flee, retorts that Isthar is just as guilty as he, Isthar finds the physician and begs him to tend to Fabius' wounds. Angry and remorseful, the doctor refuses to help the Roman and apologizes to the refugees for Isthar's betrayal. To Isthar's surprise, the refugees take pity on her and assist in cleaning Fabius' wounds. The next day, Isthar apologizes to the recovered Fabius, but is spurned. Satisfied that he has learned his lesson, Verrus reinstates Fabius, then agrees to sell Isthar two camels, so that she can join another caravan. Isthar warns Fabius that Herod's soldiers are going to attack the caravan before dawn and begs him to leave with her. Enraged, Fabius hurls Isthar to the ground, injuring her, and Isthar stumbles to the refugees' tent for help. After the physician treats her wound, Isthar holds the infant and mutters that she now knows the meaning of change and is not afraid. Isthar gives her camels to the infant's mother, and mother and child depart at dawn. When the merchant discovers that Isthar no longer has the animals, he panics and starts to strangle her. His attack is interrupted when Herod's soldiers descend on the camp, setting fire to the tents and killing Romans and refugees alike. After the merchant is slain, Fabius is mortally wounded, and Isthar cradles him as he dies. Isthar is killed, and later the physician and Verrus stand over her grave, pondering whether she died saving a messiah, or just a child.
The working title of the film, The Sinner, was also the British release title, and the title of the viewed print. As noted in reviews and news items, the film was made in Italy and on location in Egypt. The Italian release title was La peccatrice del deserto. Dialogue in the film was dubbed into English. Arnoldo Foà's name was misspelled "Arnaldo Foa" in the onscreen credits of the viewed print.
According to a January 1954 Los Angeles Times item, Desert Desperadoes was to be the first film of producer-writer Victor Stoloff's new company, S. and S., Ltd. At that time, Stoloff, who was based in Hollywood but produced films overseas, planned to shoot the film in Canada. In June 1954, Hollywood Reporter announced that Stoloff and co-writer Robert Hill had sold their screenplay to John Nasht, as a possible RKO release. No information about the actual production has been found, but a modern Italian source lists the film's release year as 1955. Onscreen credits include a 1957 copyright statement, but the year listed in the official copyright notice is 1959. RKO distributed the picture in the U.S. through state rights exchanges, beginning in July 1959. Modern sources list Gianni Vernuccio as a co-director with Steve Sekely.