The Sundowners Movie Review

Deborah Kerr as Ida Carmody, an indomitable stick in the Australian outback, makes an impassioned plea for women living a nomadic existence in that spare country down under to the unhappy Jean Halstead (Dina Merrill), "This is good country for sheep and it's not bad for men. But it's hard on us women. The men come here because of the sheep and we come here because of the men and most of us finish up looking like the sheep -- wrinkled faces, knotty hair, not even much of our own minds." Jean replies, "I think you'll always have a mind of your own, Mrs. Carmody." She ain't kidding. Ida has to hold her own against her beer- and gambling-loving husband Paddy (Robert Mitchum), who as a sheep drover in 1920s Australia, keeps his family -- Ida and their teenage son Sean (Michael Anderson Jr.) -- moving with the sheep. Paddy is happy not being tied down, but Ida and Sean want a place to settle down and convince Paddy to take a job as a sheep-shearer in order to make a down payment on a farm. Paddy doesn't realize it though, and the struggle between Paddy, who wants to be free, and Ida, who wants a home, is the slender thread that ties Fred Zinnemann's The Sundowners together.

The Sundowners is a pleasant and happy film, marked by wonderful set pieces (a tremendous brush fire sequence, a sheep-shearing contest, a gambling scene, a tavern brawl) all set to a jaunty Dimitri Tiomkin score.

And it all almost manages to overcome Zinnemann's picturesque pap of painterly vistas and hopping kangaroos, clinging koalas, and strutting ostriches. Pauline Kael once wrote that when a director dies he becomes a photographer -- and judging by that criteria Zinnemann died early in the game, after 1948's Act of Violence -- and settles instead for harmless, beautiful films that win Oscar nominations. This is the case with The Sundowners, with Zinnemann's Australia so clean and mannered it looks like a fantasy land theme park where one could image an ostrich and kangaroo petting zoo, an outback brush fire thrill ride, koala bear safari, and a gift shop with Robert Mitchum action figures and Glynis Johns dolls.

But then there are the actors. Mitchum is all rugged charisma, Peter Ustinov is cuddly and witty, and Johns is earthy and fun. But Deborah Kerr is the dominate presence here. Her Ida is sexy, down-to-earth, chummy, and beautiful. No wonder Paddy keeps getting drunk. Sober, who would say no to her? I'd settle down with her in a minute.

There are a few refreshing touches here for a Warner Brothers epic from 1960. Sex is apparently easy and uninhibited in the Australian outback, maybe because people lived in tents rather than apartments. The film begins with Paddy and Ida in their tent cleaning off the soot from a day's worth of droving and Ida sponging herself off and shedding her clothes in the process. The camera discreetly tracks past Ida to Paddy on the bed with Paddy commenting, "You know Ida, you're built the way a woman should be built." Ida hops into bed and that's it. Johns as a hotelkeeper is also up front with her desires, prompting Ustinov to react by saying, "I'll have a schooner of beer... among other things."

All of which makes The Sundowners an enough enjoyable diversion. Unfortunately, Zinnemann's direction smoothes it all out, like wool falling off a sheared sheep.

The DVD also includes a vintage on location short -- On Location with The Sundowners -- and the theatrical trailer.

Who's hungry for lamb chops?

Cast & Crew

Director :

Producer : Gerry Blattner

Starring : , , , , , Chips Rafferty, Michael Anderson Jr.


The Sundowners Rating

" OK "

Rating: NR, 1960


More Deborah Kerr

The Sundowners Movie Review

Deborah Kerr as Ida Carmody, an indomitable stick in the Australian outback, makes an impassioned plea for women living a nomadic existence in that spare...