The Sundowners was nominated for Best Picture in 1960 and is a film about the Carmody’s, a family of Australian sheep drovers. They roam the Outback and never settle in any one place for too long. They herd sheep to any given destination, get odd jobs at that place and then after a few months, move on. The Carmody’s consist of a father, named Paddy (Robert Mitchum), the mother, Ida (Deborah Kerr) and Sean. Ida and Sean want to settle down and build a home, but Paddy, the “grizzled” Australian father, wants to keep moving on. What little money they make is usually spent gambling and/or drinking by Paddy. What was meant to be an epic film about the struggles of a nomadic family traveling through the Outback of Australia turns out to be a long and grueling borefest. It is riddled with random close-up shots of animals unique to the Outback doing things that are probably meant to make the audience laugh. However, a shot of a cute animal, like a koala bear, immediately following the near-death experience of the Carmody’s in a wild-fire is completely out of place. Plus, Koala Bears will tear your face off. I also got the impression that these animal scenes exist to show off the Australian wildlife. Despite the fact that this might be the 1960 audience’s only chance to get to see the Outback, I still think this was pretty lame.
The Sundowners was directed by Fred Zinneman, who made many great films like Oklahoma!, From Here to Eternity, Nigh Noon & A Man For All Seasons. However, he managed to churn out a dud the size of Wolf Creek Crater. The only good thing I could say about this film is the cinematography, which is half-way decent at best but botches many opportunities for great shots and instead goes for those animal close-ups in their habitat.
Einstein’s theory of relativity doesn’t apply in this film. Things seem to happen for no reason. Effects occur despite the fact that there may have been no cause. Reactions take place without there being neither an equal nor an opposite action to put it into motion. Actors laugh at sad things and the audience doesn’t laugh at all. All of this must be chalked up to bad writing, even though it got an Adapted Screenplay nomination. Not only that, but the story has no flow. The film never goes anywhere but the characters are constantly on the road. It’s editing is choppy.
This nomadic family finds a temporary place where they all get jobs and finally seem content. Then the family starts gambling with other workers. They bet on timed sheep shedding contests, coin tosses, and finally horse racing. They win a horse through coin toss betting and somehow, their son Sean becomes an overnight expert jockey and, fully clothed in jockey apparel, races their new horse and wins lots of money.
The Carmody’s pick up a British drifter named Rupert (Peter Ustinov). He’s fat and gives antidotal bits of advice here and there that are meant to be funny, but are not. He drinks tea when the others drink coffee and he smokes his cigarette through a holder. His British habits mixed with the family’s Australian way of doing things show a difference in them, but a difference that is not in the least bit funny nor interesting.
At over two hours in length, the film attempts to capture that “epic-ness”, but it does not. It’s epic in length, but certainly not epic in the ways that we think of when we speak of epic films like, Gone With The Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, Ben-Hur, Titanic, There Will Be Blood. Not to compare The Sundowners to these other masterpieces, but these films at least have substance. The Sundowners is empty; a long, empty movie that hopes the elements it lacks will somehow find their way to the surface.
Being “epic” and set in Australia, one would think that the film would find a way to grab nominations for Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume Design, Editing and Original Music, but The Sundowners received no such nominations. Movies on as grand a scale as The Sundowners attempts to be, must grab some of these nominations, especially given that the film was a Best Picture nominee. Deborah Kerr and Glynis Johns managed to take nominations for Actress and Supporting Actress, respectively. Isobel Lennart was nominated for Adapted Screenplay for her efforts in turning the book into a movie, which seems a regrettable effort now. Fred Zinneman, who won four Oscars in his career, managed to find himself nominated for director.
So I have watched this film in 2010 and did not like it, but I have to ask myself, “How was the film relevant in 1960?” Was it the fondness of the actors by the public that earned the film its nomination? Was it Zinnemann’s track record of making so many great films that it came to the point where he just had to throw something together in order get nominated? Was it the fact that it showcased the Outback, which gave the audience a rare glance at this foreign land? Perhaps, but this film does not stand the test of time.
The Sundowners…Australian for suck.
*1/2 out of ****
Leave Her to Heaven ***1/2 out of ****
It’s been said that jealousy is the deadliest of all the seven sins. That is certainly true in “Leave Her to Heaven”, where envy leads to lust, greed, sloth, pride and ultimately tons of wrath. Leave Her to Heaven was directed by John M. Staul in 1945 and is based on the novel written by Ben Ames Williams. It’s about a woman named Ellen, played by Gene Tierney (Laura, Heaven Can Wait), who becomes so obsessed with her husband, Rich (Cornel Wilde) that she stops at nothing to make sure that she keeps him all to herself.
The Belcourt will be screening a new 35mm print of Leave Her to Heaven this Saturday-Monday, September 11-13.
Ellen meets Rich on a train. Ellen falls in love and tells everyone that they are getting married before Rich, himself, is even aware of the fact. Ellen then proposes to him. Rich and Ellen get married and she wastes no time getting obsessed. She gets jealous of her own family members. She resents any attention that Rich gives to anyone that’s not directed at her. Through a series of desperate and tragic acts carried out by Ellen in an effort to retain her control over Rich’s attention, lives are lost, the family is torn apart and their relationship to each other deteriorates.
Ellen, in the beginning of the film, is made to look elegant with wavy, shiny dark hair and deep red lipstick. Her wardrobe is fierce and every scene is taken as an opportunity to show off her fashion. Immediately following the first tragedy and during her pregnancy, Ellen’s look becomes slightly sinister. Her hair is up most of the time and, being pregnant, her wardrobe is maternal.
Resenting her pregnancy and becoming increasingly jealous of her cousin, Ruth (Jeanne Crain), the stunning woman from the beginning of the film now looks down right evil. At the same time, Ruth seems more grown-up and, with the passing of each scene, looks increasingly beautiful. This only helps to support Ellen’s on-screen allegations of a relationship between Rich and Ruth.
Gene Tierney received a Best Actress nomination for her role as the obsessed wife. The film was also nominated for Best Sound and Art Direction. Leon Shamroy (Planet of the Apes, Cleopatra), won the Oscar for Best Cinematography.
Leave Her to Heaven is quite bold for a film made in 1945. The subject matter suggests moral issues that were mostly censored in the mid 40’s. For instance, Ellen and Rich sleep in separate beds, but she moves over to his in the morning and wakes him up with a kiss. Being based on a novel, the film is pretty well written except for the ending courtroom scene, which contains a line of questioning by Ellen’s ex-fiance, Russell Quinton (Vincent Price) that seems to herd the audience toward how the writers want us to feel, however unrealistic it might be. Cornel Wilde is by no means a thespian, but the other actors do a decent enough job. Leave Her to Heaven is shot well, focusing on the actors and what they’re doing more so than on the background and scenery. The colors seem over-accentuated and pop right off the screen. The overall beautiful and magnificent color of the film is a great contrast to the pure evil that is going on within the film itself.
A new 35mm print of Leave Her to Heaven is playing at the Belcourt Theatre this Saturday-Monday, September 11-13. Following the 2:10 screening on Saturday, Megan Minarich, Ph.D Candidate in English at Vanderbilt University, will provide a post-screening commentary on the film, which has been recently restored by the Academy Film Archive. Check out the Belcourt’s website for a video clip of Martin Scorsese introducing Leave Her to Heaven.
The only wide release this week isn’t even worth mentioning, but I’ll mention it anyways. Resident Evil: Afterlife (in 3D) is the fourth installment of the Resident Evil series and, for some reason, is getting released to 3,203 screens this weekend. What was once a horrifyingly entertaining series of video games has now become a grotesque, dead-on-its-feet series of movies, just like those zombies infected by the T-virus in Raccoon City all those years ago.
Resident Evil: Afterlife (in 3D) is the latest film to jump on the 3D bandwagon; no doubt to increase its ticket sales from pitiful to just plain fail. The Resident Evil films have each barely made over $50 million at best and I don’t see any reason why Resident Evil: Afterlife (in 3D) would be any different. Evidently, this franchise is taking a theistic approach, being that following an Apocalypse and then the subsequent Extinction, there must needs be an Afterlife. In Resident Evil: Afterlife (in 3D), the team roams the earth in search of survivors. It’s illogical to apply logic here, but there’s no point in searching for survivors after extinction. In fact, if you find yourself having survived extinction and then decide to go looking for survivors, then suffice it to say that you’re in an afterlife of some sort, although, it doesn’t sound like a very good one.
There are plenty of other films still out that you might want to go see besides Resident Evil: Afterlife (in 3D) like Machete, Going the Distance, The American, Piranha 3D, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Salt, Inception, Despicable Me & Toy Story. Click here for theatres and show times for Resident Evil: Afterlife (in 3D).
Another option for this weekend could be the independent film, Get Low, directed by Aaron Schneider and playing at several theatres in the Nashville area. Get Low has accumulated a vast amount of buzz over the last few months. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this year and stars Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Lucas Black and Sissy Spacek. Look for a Best Acting nomination for Robert Duvall.