Take 3: The Sundowners (1960) Review

Here at 18 Cinema Lane, I try to go out of my way to watch, and review, as many film recommendations as possible. In fact, I have a board on Pinterest dedicated to these recommendations. Two years ago, when I reviewed Marriage on the Rocks, Maddy, from Maddy Loves Her Classic Films, suggested I check out the 1960 picture, The Sundowners. Shortly after Debbie, from Moon in Gemini, invited me to her Foreign Western Blogathon, I finally found an opportunity to write about the movie! The Sundowners fits two of the four blogathon categories: ‘directed by foreign directors’ and ‘shot in a foreign country’. According to IMDB, the film’s director, Fred Zinnemann, is from Austria-Hungary. The movie was also filmed in Australia, where the story takes place. Foreign westerns are not a new concept on 18 Cinema Lane. Neither are Australian films. Within the four years of my movie blogging journey, I reviewed Another Man, Another Chance, Interrupted Melody, and Hallmark Hall of Fame’s Durango. If you’re interested, I’ll provide the links to these reviews toward the beginning of this article.

Take 3: Another Man, Another Chance Review

Take 3: Interrupted Melody Review

Take 3: Hallmark Hall of Fame’s Durango Review

The Sundowners (1960) poster created by Warner Bros.

Things I liked about the film:

The cinematography: Like I said in the introduction, The Sundowners was filmed in Australia. The movie’s creative team took advantage of the country’s natural surroundings through cinematography! One long shot showcased Australia’s farmlands. What made this shot beautiful were the rays of sunlight showering over the green landscape, offering a light only nature could provide. The cinematography also did a good job putting things into perspective. During a forest fire, Ida is driving her family’s wagon away from the forest. While this maneuver is taking place, the camera is situated inside the back of the wagon. It looks out toward the road, giving the audience the illusion they are riding in the wagon with Ida.

Higher stakes: When I reviewed Hallmark Hall of Fame’s Durango last year, I talked about low stakes being one of the film’s biggest flaws. In The Sundowners, higher stakes were featured in a few scenes! A notable example is the forest fire I previously mentioned. While the Carmody family is herding sheep, a nearby forest fire breaks out. This leads all the characters to be in danger. The scene chronicled the entire process of the fire, starting from the detection of smoke and ending in the fire’s aftermath. Cut-away shots of scared wildlife are spliced into the story, emphasizing the other lives in harm’s way. Dramatic music can be heard in the background, elevating the sense of urgency. With all these elements combined, this scene was the perfect example of the higher stakes I expect from a western film!

The historical accuracy: With any “period film”, the historical accuracy can make or break that production. In the case of The Sundowners, the story takes place in the 1920s. From the looks of it, the 1960 project appears historical accurate! The forms of transportation are one indicator. While the Carmody family is working on the sheep farm, the employees sometimes rode in antique trucks with open beds. At least one motorcycle is featured in the story, revealing exposed gears and a model very different from the motorcycles of today. A covered wagon is the preferred vehicle of the Carmody family, with Paddy and Sean riding horses on a few occasions. This aspect of the film’s historical accuracy reminded me of a production like The Grapes of Wrath.

The Foreign Western Blogathon banner created by Debbie from Moon in Gemini

What I didn’t like about the film:

A “slice of life” story: Westerns, like any genre, contain a wide range of narratives. If given the choice, I’d rather watch a western with, at least, one conflict instead of a story that’s more “slice of life”. Unfortunately, the majority of The Sundowners is a “slice of life” story. The script primarily focuses on the daily operations of sheep farming. At first, this topic was interesting. But as the film carried on, the elements of sheep farming became repetitive. Had this movie contained one or two major conflicts, I might have found this story more intriguing.

Lack of Irish accents: According to Wikipedia, the Carmody family is Irish, a fact Sean tells Rupert early in the film. Michael Anderson Jr., Robert Mitchum, and Deborah Kerr must have missed that detail in the script, as none of them could successfully carry an Irish accent. Throughout The Sundowners, Deborah sounded like she was speaking in a British accent. Meanwhile, Robert and Michael sounded Australian. I don’t think Robert, Deborah, and Michael are bad actors. In fact, pulling off any accent can be a difficult skill to master. However, their lack of Irish accents was, for me, jarring.

The run-time: The Sundowners contains a straight-forward story about a family searching for employment in order to afford a place of their own. With that said, I found it unnecessary for the film’s run-time to be two hours and thirteen minutes. Some scenes felt drawn out in an attempt to satisfy this run-time, the shearing contest Paddy enters being one example. That scene lasts about five minutes, even though it could have only featured the most exciting parts of the contest. If scenes like that one had been cut shorter, the movie could have had a run-time of about an hour and thirty minutes.

A “bait and switch” ending: In my review of 1961’s The Pit and the Pendulum, I incorporated spoilers to explain my thoughts on a specific portion of the movie. Similarly, I will be including spoilers in this part of my review. If you haven’t seen The Sundowners, please skip this part and continue reading where it states “My overall impression”.

As I stated earlier in this review, The Sundowners contains a straight-forward story. I also stated how the movie is two hours and thirteen minutes. Within that run-time, the Carmody family receives the funds to afford a farm that was featured toward the beginning of the film. All seems to be going well until the last ten minutes in the story. While in a drunken state, Paddy makes several I-O-Us, losing the family’s finances in the process. In an attempt to earn back some of those funds, the family enters their race-horse, Sundowner, in an upcoming horse race. Not only does Sundowner and Sean win the race, Paddy also wins a bet. Even though they have enough money to make a down payment on the aforementioned farm, Ida changes her mind, saying Paddy can keep the race horse instead. This statement contradicts Ida’s goal throughout the movie; getting a place to put down roots. Moments later, an announcement declares Sundowner is disqualified from the race due to a pass interference. This means the Carmody family lost all the money they just won. The movie ends exactly how it begins; with the family on the road looking for employment and a place to stay. If I had known the story would end this way, I wouldn’t have become invested in the Carmody family’s ordeal.

Horse with saddle photo created by Topntp26 at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-photo/stallion-black-equine-race-sky_1104246.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Background image created by Topntp26 – Freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

My overall impression:

When it comes to film-making, one of the worst things you can do is waste the audience’s time. The way I feel about The Sundowners is similar to how I felt about The Birds; like I truly wasted two hours and thirteen minutes. I understand circumstances in western films aren’t always fair. Heck, life itself is sometimes unfair. But what is also not fair is giving your characters and audience hope for two hours, then taking that hope away in the film’s last ten minutes. With the way The Sundowners turned out for me, it almost seemed like history repeated itself. As I mentioned in this review, I wrote about Hallmark Hall of Fame’s Durango last year. That 1999 presentation was a foreign western I didn’t like. Both Durango and The Sundowners have one thing in common. Even though there were things about each film I liked, they contained a weak script. A script is the foundation of any cinematic production. If it isn’t strong, there’s only so much you can do to remedy the issue. Before I end this review, I want to make it clear that I have nothing against foreign westerns or Australian cinema. I’m confident there are stellar Australian and foreign western pictures I haven’t seen yet. Unfortunately, The Sundowners isn’t one of them.

Overall score: 4.7 out of 10

Have you watched any foreign westerns? If so, which ones would you recommend? Let me know in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

The Second Poll of the 2020 Gold Sally Awards is here!

Happy Valentine’s Day! Because today is February 14th, I decided to change things up a little bit. Instead of posting the Best Story poll as the second poll of this year’s Gold Sally Awards, I decided to post the Best On-Screen Couple poll earlier than I did last year! In this poll, you’ll be voting on who was the best on-screen couple from movies I saw in 2019. Similar to the previous poll, you are allowed to vote for more than one on-screen couple. But you can only vote once per person. This poll starts today, on February 14th, and ends on February 20th.

happy valentine's day red background
Valentine’s Day image created by Starline at freepik.com <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Background vector created by Starline – Freepik.com</a> <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/happy-valentine-s-day-red-background_1725125.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a> Image found at freepik.com

https://linkto.run/p/BX23J49A

Who is the Best On-Screen Couple of 2019?
Cindy Busby and Ben Hollingsworth – A Godwink Christmas: Meant for Love
Paul Greene and Maggie Lawson – Christmas in Evergreen: Tidings of Joy
Zhang Ziyi and Chang Chen – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Fiona Gubelmann and Brendan Penny – Easter Under Wraps
Melissa Claire Egan and Marc Blucas – Holiday for Heroes
Jill Wagner and Kristoffer Polaha – Mystery 101: Words Can Kill
Italia Ricci and Peter Porte – Rome in Love
Vincent Perez and Rachel Weisz – Swept from the Sea
Elizabeth Mitchell and Cameron Mathison – The Christmas Club
Brandon Routh and Kimberley Sustad — The Nine Lives of Christmas
Created with PollMaker

 

Have fun voting!

Sally Silverscreen

Take 3: Au revoir les enfants Review + 165 & 170 Follower Thank You

At the beginning of the month, my blog received 165 followers! While I was figuring out which movie I would review, I was creating a new blogging schedule for myself. Several days ago, 18 Cinema Lane received its 170th follower! So, for this blog follower dedication review, I decided to write about one movie while acknowledging both milestones. I chose to talk about a French film called Au revoir les enfants! Foreign films are rarely talked about when it comes to these specific reviews. In fact, the first one I discussed was Vampyr last October. Au revoir les enfants has also been on my DVR since last February. So, I thought these reasons would be a good excuse to finally watch this film! While Vampyr is a French and German production, I have reviewed a French film on this blog before. For Clean Movie Month, I talked about the 1950 project, Les Enfants Terribles. Will my thoughts on Au revoir les enfants be similar to those on the aforementioned French film I reviewed last year? You’ll just have to read this post if you want to find the answer!

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I chose to use this poster for the review because it verifies that I, indeed, watched this film. Screenshot taken by me, Sally Silverscreen.
Things I liked about the film:

The acting: Movies that have young actors make up the majority of the cast can be hit-or-miss. In the case of Au revoir les enfants, this aspect worked in the film’s favor! All of the young actors were not only allowed to act their age, but they were able to work alongside other actors within their age group. This made their performances feel genuine and realistic. Speaking of realism, I noticed that all of the character portrayals and the situations showcased in the movie appeared like it came directly from real-life. It gave these elements a sense of authenticity. Because this film is based on a true story, the creative team’s focus on making the characters and situations look and feel believable seemed to be taken very seriously.

The historical accuracy: This film takes place in early 1944. Because of this, all of the material elements of the project looked like it came directly from that period in time. The wardrobe of all the characters feature articles of clothing that one would likely find within the mid ‘40s. The architecture of the boarding school shows off the preserved interior and exterior style from an era gone by. Even the finer details of the picture, such as the books, feel like relics of that specific year. While watching this film, I noticed the way the characters spoke also reflected the time period. Whenever subjects related to World War II were brought up, it was done in a very subtle way. Even though this was a period film, I never felt like I was being talked down to or like the movie was treating itself like a history lesson. If anything, I felt like I was watching a moment in time.

The presentation of the subtitles: How the subtitles are presented in foreign films is very important. If they can be seen clearly, it allows the audience to better understand what the characters are saying. I liked how the subtitles were showcased in Au revoir les enfants! While all of the text was white, it was presented against backgrounds that were dark in hue. The very first scene in the movie is a great example of this. The station and train itself adopted colors of black and gray. None of the characters in this scene wore bright colors. Because of this creative decision, I never had a difficult time reading the subtitles.

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Hanukkah mehorah image created by Freepik at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-photo/mehorah-with-flaming-candles_3299423.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Background image created by Freepik</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

What I didn’t like the film:

A weak plot: The more movies I watch, the more I realize that “slice of life” stories aren’t my thing. That’s because I don’t find them to be as intriguing as other cinematic stories. That’s what the majority of Au revoir les enfants is: a “slice of life” story. To me, it didn’t contain as much interest as it could have. It felt like the screenwriter put so much emphasis on the premise of Julien and Jean’s relationship, that there was nothing else to offer in the narrative.

A somewhat mis-leading premise: In the synopsis I read for this movie, it said the film was about a Catholic boy and a Jewish boy becoming friends during World War II. However, the friendship aspect of their relationship isn’t portrayed until about the last twenty minutes of the film. Julien and Jean spend most of the movie apart than together. In fact, Julien starts off not liking Jean as a person. Julien does become nicer to Jean as the film progresses. When this does happen, it just makes them seem like acquaintances more than anything.

Situations being shown, but not explained: Throughout Au revoir les enfants, there are situations shown on screen that aren’t given explanations. One example is when Julien pokes his hand with a compass. As he is doing this, he tells the classmate sitting next to him how it doesn’t hurt. Not only was this action never explained, but it’s never referenced again in the movie. Julien’s action didn’t seem to serve a purpose for his character development or the overall narrative. Moments like this one happened at several times in the film and I found myself being frustrating by them.

3 paris
Illustration of Paris, France created by Freepik at freepik.com. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/travel”>Travel vector created by freepik – http://www.freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

My overall impression:

Before I share my final thoughts on this film, I want to thank each and every one of the followers! 18 Cinema Lane would not be the success it is today without you. Now, on to my overall impression of Au revoir les enfants! Personally, I thought it was just ok. The movie does have merits that are earned, as well as a plot twist that works. But the overall project could have been stronger. As I mentioned in my review, Au revoir les enfants is based on a true story. It felt like the creative team approached the narrative as respectfully as possible. Because the creation of the movie was handled with a sense of reverence, it allowed the film to have the emotional weight it contained. The realism of the acting and writing gave me a reason to stay invested in what the characters were saying and doing. I’m not often given opportunities to watch and review French films. However, I’m glad I chose this movie for my latest blog follower dedication review!

Overall score: 6.1 out of 10

What are your thoughts on my review? Are there any French films you’d like to see me review? Tell me in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen