Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Sundowners

The Sundowners, an eighty-minute long color film from 1950, seems to include all the requisite elements of a typical mid-twentieth century Western: The lone rancher doing his best to hold out against more established ranchers, with only a younger brother and one neighbor to support his efforts; an ineffectual sheriff in the pay of or under the thumb of the most powerful rancher in the area; a female neighbor who doesn't seem too fond of her wimpy husband but is overly fond of the unattached lone rancher; a dead foreman, cattle rustling, more dead bodies, a secret, and of course a climactic gun battle. 

And into this mix comes a man with a name like that of an outlaw: Kid Wichita, who, for some reason unexplained until near the end of the movie, takes an interest in both the welfare of the lone rancher and the lonely wife.  The rancher welcomes Wichita's assistance and that of his two equally disreputable friends but gradually seems less sure that accepting his help is the right thing to do.  On the other hand, the rancher's younger brother, who at first wanted to kill Wichita--this gunslinger goes by Wichita, not Kid--eventually ends up practically hero-worshipping him.

The leads are Robert Sterling as the rancher, Tom Cloud, and Robert Preston as Kid Wichita, the outlaw.  Chill Wills (Bixby in The Biggest Game in the West) is the rancher's friend, and Jack Elam (Boot Coby in Bad Night in Big Butte) is the unloved husband.  Elam was unrecognizable but in the twenty-odd years between The Sundowners and his role in ASJ, Wills hadn't changed much.

Overwrought and melodramatic at times, The Sundowners was filmed in Texas and the location shots raise this movie slightly above average as a result.  A bonus feature consists of filmographies of the major actors and the director.