Friday, July 20, 2012

Tonight's Movie: The Sundowners (1950)

THE SUNDOWNERS is a moderately interesting Western about brothers on opposite sides of the law who unite temporarily to save the family cattle ranch from rustlers.

Tom Cloud (Robert Sterling) and his kid brother Jeff (John Drew Barrymore, billed as John Barrymore Jr.) are struggling to keep their ranch going, with rustlers regularly stealing their herds and even killing one of their hands. Ne'er-do-well oldest brother James (Robert Preston), also known as Kid Wichita, shows up and goes about stealing the cattle back and teaching the rustlers a few lessons.

However, Wichita is also a cold-blooded killer who is a bad influence on impressionable Jeff, and eventually Tom has to confront Wichita.

I liked the creative way the movie started, acknowledging the four Texas ranches where the movie was filmed by displaying their brands. Unfortunately this wasn't nearly as good a Western as Sterling made the previous year, ROUGHSHOD (1949). The plot is a bit jerky, and it almost seemed as though a scene or two might have been cut out explaining the brothers' relationship with neighbor Kathleen (Cathy Downs, MY DARLING CLEMENTINE). There are some good moments, but on the whole the movie is bland, meandering a bit too much without really going anywhere, and Preston overdoes Wichita's rogue charm, whose catch phrase is "Why shore!" It's clear from the outset how the movie will end.

This 83-minute film has a supporting cast with reliables such as Chill Wills, John Litel, Don Haggerty, and a young Jack Elam.

This movie was directed by George Templeton, from a script by Alan LeMay, who wrote the screenplay for THE SEARCHERS (1956). It was filmed by Winton C. Hoch right after he won the Oscar for his remarkable work on SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949), but the look of THE SUNDOWNERS is fairly pedestrian. Although it was filmed in Technicolor, the brownish color palette, as seen on a VCI DVD, seems closer to Cinecolor.

It should be noted that this 1950 film has no relationship whatsoever to the 1960 film of the same name, which starred Robert Mitchum. Incidentally, the plot description on the VCI DVD box bears no resemblance to the storyline of the actual movie!


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