The Sundowners Movie Review
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?