Friday, August 5, 2011

The Sundowners (1960)

A Downer

- As much as it pains me to say this, as both a huge fan of Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr, how Fred Zinnemann's 1960 film The Sundowners was nominated for five Oscars (let alone more than just the one for Kerr) is beyond all understanding. Half-following around the Carmody sheep droving family around the Australian outback, The Sundowners never seems to be able to pick up the pace or begin to tell a solid story.

Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr reunite for their second film three years after the excellent John Huston film Heaven Knows Mr. Allison (1957) in The Sundowners. Mitchum plays Paddy Carmody, an Irish-Australian man who loves to be on the move from job-to-job and place-to-place; Deborah Kerr plays Paddy's wife Ida who is never afraid to speak her mind and has had enough of the Carmody's nomadic lifestyle; and Michael Anderson Jr. is Paddy & Ida's only child, Sean, who is also eager to stop moving around to settle down and manage a farm.

So there you have it: the Carmody family is divided between a father who wants to keep his adventurous life on horseback and a son and mother who want to take life easy in a home. The Sundowners does touch upon this story arc from time to time and when it does the film is interesting and engaging but unfortunately never dwells on this aspect of the story long enough to make it an interesting focal point of the film. Instead, we see the Carmodys lead sheep across the Australian outback, shack up with a loud and half-in-the-bottle sheep-shearing outfit and try to race a racing horse, putting the family tension storyline out to pasture throughout the film.

The effectiveness of the film is hoisted upon the starring shoulders of Mitchum and Kerr, who are highly entertaining in a slow-moving film with basically no cohesive story and the sun as its only source of lighting (the cinematography seen here is as boring as the art form gets). Both Mitchum and Kerr do a more than admirable job but only have the help of Peter Ustinov - who excels in a supporting role as the Carmody's loyal family friend Rupert Venneker - to make the film watchable. The three great performances are enough to make The Sundowners worthwhile but they are not enough to declare it fantastic or a "must-see" film as its five Oscar nominations might suggest.

CBC Rating: 6/10

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