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Friday, 22 January 2016

The Last Sunset (1961)

I'm not sure why I decided to watch this film again, apart from noting some 'puff' piece in a listing of the week's best upcoming movies, but I'm glad I did.

It is the only movie in which Kirk Douglas and Rock Hudson co-starred, and being a product of Douglas' own production company, he made sure that the spotlight focussed mainly on him. It's the one thing I've always disliked about that actor -- and fair dos, he's been in a number of very good films. He always seems eager to project a macho and would-be charming image which manages to grate, and never comes across as quite natural. Too much 'look at me'!

Here he plays an outlaw in Mexico with sheriff Hudson in pursuit to bring him back to justice for murdering his brother-in-law. He holes up at Dorothy Malone's ranch while her husband (Joseph Cotton doing a poor impression of a Southern-gentleman loser who likes his drink) is away overnight. Seems that he and she had a 'thing' some many years ago and he is eager to reconnect with the gal that was. However he is increasingly attracted to her daughter (fifteen, rising sixteen) Carole Lynley -- such a potential romance would be a real 'no-no' today. However it is a part of Douglas' annoying persona that he is irresistible to women and a template for masculinity.

When Hudson turns up they both agree to help Cotton ride his herd into Texas where he hopes for a good price to improve life for his wife and daughter and where Hudson plans a showdown with Douglas where he has jurisdiction. Of course Hudson also has eyes for Malone (who is soon widowed) -- they of course being oners for "Written on the Wind", a far better showcase for the attractive actress. (Unfortunately, Hudson has too much baggage nowadays to be 100% believable as a romantic lead, but we'll ignore that.) His affection looks to be reciprocated, especially since Douglas now plans to ride away with the gooey-eyed Lynley. However, the film becomes something of a Greek tragedy as Malone's dreadful secret is revealed (no prizes for guessing what this is) and Douglas finally becomes something of real hero for guaranteeing the young girl a better future.

The film is one of the last of its genre after the great heyday of the Western in the 1950s and it's always a pleasure to watch a movie where all of the cast, down to the minor roles, are familiar actors. Of note here -- in throwaway roles -- are the villains of the piece who want to rustle the herd and white-slave the women, as played by Neville Brand and the iconic Jack Elam (a fabled one-eyed actor, along with Peter Falk and Forest Whitaker). The cinematography is magnificent and the script is a literate one by Dalton Trumbo -- the most notorious of the Hollywood Ten. The director, Robert Aldrich, had a long career helming memorable action movies, but none of them are as lyrical or thoughtful as this superior movie.

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I must add a footnote to my week's viewing since I have finally seen "Seven Days Leave" (1930). This title was added to my famous list when I read a book some years ago entitled "Forgotten Films to Remember" with an emphasis on the early 30s. Based on a J.M. Barrie play ("The Old Lady Shows her Medals") and set in London during World War I, it concerns a lowly charwoman, Beryl Mercer who originated the role on stage, fabricating a make-believe son serving as a soldier to match bragging rights with her boozy friends. Through some convoluted machinations soldier Gary Cooper -- in a Scottish kilt -- turns up on her doorstep. This was his first talkie role, but he easily surfaces as the natural actor that marked all of his subsequent film work. Embarrassment and hostility soon turn to affection between the two lonely characters-- and it is great to see the gangly Cooper walking beside the five-foot nothing Mercer as 'mother-and-son' celebrate his leave. It ends as a typical Barrie tear-jerker, but do try to find this movie on You Tube before it disappears...  
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