Why’d I Buy It?: Came In Robert Mitchum Box set I bought.
Why Haven’t I Watched It?: Not a huge Fred Zinneman fan, hadn’t really heard that much about it. But I figured a Robert Mitchum Movie would be the perfect way to celebrate reaching fifty entries in The Unseen.
How Was It?: The Sundowners is one of the most laid back epics ever made. Most films of its era and size rush along in a panic of spectacle, desperate to prove film relevant in the face of Television. Predicated on incident rather than event. The Sundowners takes the opposite route. It’s probably the closest thing we’ll ever come to an old school Hollywood epic directed by Richard Linklater.
The Sundowners follows a family of Sundowners (Australian slang for vagabonds) follow job to job around the country, droving sheep across The Outback. The family is headed up by Robert Mitchum, as always a personification of charisma and cool and the film is lucky enough to be one of the four he did with Deborah Kerr, one of the few women who always seemed able to match him. Rounding out the cast is the incomparably fussy Peter Ustinov as their family friend/sidekick. As always Ustinov happily more or less plays himself. And as always he does so as if there would be no one else who could possibly be more delightful to play.
Rather then allowing some artificial crisis, obscure these characters Zinneman pulls back and simply lets us enjoy them.
The conflict such as it is, comes from the desire of Kerr to settle down with her son and Mitchum’s desire to push forever on into the horizon. Still this isn’t handled melodramatically, but with a fairly surprising amount of realism for the time. There are no real histrionics, just another at odds married couple trying to work shit out.
I’ve never been a huge fan of director Frederic Zinneman (though I do admire his A Man For All Seasons) but he directs well here. With a keen unshowy visual eye, a sure hand with the set pieces the film does have (A scene where the family is caught in a forest fire with their flock being the most impressive, with some truly striking imagery) and a judicious use of the local color. The Australian setting adds a well employed sense of the exotic, and some beautiful shot on location footage which captures both the beauty and the harshness of the land. It also presents the opportunity for some of the worst faux Australian accents known to man.
The Sundowners at the end of the day may not remake the wheel. Call it workman like if you must. What it does is present an engaging, entertaining, occasionally wistful and pleasantly human story, with one of the greatest movie stars of all time at its center. Sometimes you just need a good movie to curl up to on a lazy Sunday afternoon and for the classic movie fan The Sundowners fits that bill admirably.