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|Index||12 reviews in total|
This was an exceptional western in it's day. Filmed on location, in Technicolor no less, with top B-list stars Robert Sterling, the bland good-guy type and Robert Preston, the evil bad-man brother with good support by Cathy Downs, John Barrymore Jr., Chill Wills, John Litel among others including Jack Elam. After viewing this again after a long while, it's obvious that the more "adult" aspects of the story were eliminated or toned down so drastically that the drama was just too tame by todays' standards, but they had the "Code" in those days. It also appears as if the studio (Eagle-Lion)may have also edited some scenes down to fit a particular running time (approx. 83 minutes). It makes no sense to spend the money they did on this film and then cut it to it's running time. If this film had a couple of the Alan Bates, Susannha York, John Hurt scenes from "The Shout" written into this "re-make" it would be more explosive and make more sense. I would also explore and expand the strong-willed father, weak son sheriff sub-plot a little more. Yes it's watchable still as is, but when we bring back the Western some day, let's re-make this one early on.
This is a decent Western that has a couple of fine performances by Robert Preston,who makes a great bad-guy, as "Kid Wichita" and Cathy Downs,veteran of numerous Westerns,Film-noirs and Comedies,as "Kathleen Boyce".The Technicolor and the great editing are a plus,and there's also a well-done shoot-out in a canyon.This is a B-Western that's definitely worth a look.
Peaceful rancher Robert Sterling is on the losing side of a range war
with his ruthless neighbors, that is until notorious outlaw Robert
Preston shows up out of the blue to level the playing field. Soon he
begins to go too far, feeding a growing sense of unease in Sterling,
especially when his son begins to idolize the wily criminal.
The Sundowners is a tightly-paced, gritty, and surprisingly tough little picture with a great performance by Preston. Here, he comes across as an evil version of Shane, that is until the real nature of the rancher and the outlaw's relationship is revealed. Most movie guides and video boxes spoil the surprise!
Rounding out the cast is Chill Wills, Jack Elam, and the debut of John Drew Barrymore, who became more famous for his offspring than his acting.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is one of those westerns that, well, stands practically alone in
the unrelieved quality of its dialog. Very few can hold up to it over
the long haul. That said, the rest is pretty bad. Nevertheless I am
giving it an eight because there is no other western with such
consistently good dialog with maybe the exception of The Wild Bunch,
Junior Bonner, and perhaps a few more.
It is riddled with weaknesses, John Drew Barrimore the most glaring. However it does have one truly memorable scene. Nothing like it. Its right after Kid Wichita kills the sheriff, and goes to Jack Elams place trying to goad him into a fight. Wonderful stuff. Right up with the best in any western.
The Cloud brothers Tom and Jeff are in a mini war with some
neighbouring ranchers who are stealing their cattle and want that land
that they own. In these confrontations one of their ranch guys is found
dead. Not too long James Cloud ('Kid Wichita') makes his way into the
picture to help his brothers out on this outcome. Kid Wichita goes to
any lengths to make sure that those neighbours pay back their interest.
This means going out at night and herding their cattle to cover the
costs, but there's more going on than that here. This situation gets
more complicated when killing becomes apart of it and Tom can see his
younger brother Jeff is turning out like Wichita and he doesn't see eye
to eye to that. Realising now that he made a mistake by letting Wichita
become apart of it, he must turn him into the law, alive or dead.
Pretty much a typical Hollywood western that seems to have put a lot effort into the production side of things (especially the Technicolor), but the story and pacing seems to be stuck in first gear throughout most of the picture. It's mostly a melodramatic and slow moving story that is rather chatty but still engaging no matter what. This is because the tough cowboy dialog between them is incredibly taut and that thrives throughout. That kind of makes up for sparse action and tension, but the momentum does picks up in the last 15 minutes with a revelation, which you have already guessed and a climatic showdown in the caverns. This is where the best moments occur. The shootout between the Cloud brothers and some rustlers up in the rocky terrains with its classic cowboy banter is fairly well staged. Like some reviewer has mentioned that really goes to the whip crazy incident. But after all of that you'll be expecting uplifting showdown between the brothers after the biting conflict amongst them earlier on, but sadly it all ends in a small whimper.
Being shot location also gives it a bit more credit. The Texas landscape helps for a nice backdrop, which makes for an easier viewing then actually just being made on sets. It one of the draw cards to make sure you keep on watching, that's for sure. Though saying that I was squinting to make out what's happening in those damn impossible moments in the dark. Some sequences felt liked they were chucked in without any thought, but that could be because of the editing. The editing was rather sharp and maybe too sharp, as some things were left open in the story with no much detail about certain scenarios that come to be. While the score was a bit over-bearing at times. But that's no real biggie. The characters in the film are well established and the performances are reasonably sound by the second-rate cast. Robert Preston as 'Kid Wichita' is the one and only enlightened character in the film. He spent most of the time amusing himself by making fun out of people he knew wouldn't fight back, well that changes. Robert Sterling as the flat Tom pales in comparison to the lively Preston and John Drew Barrymore as the younger Jeff wasn't too bad even if his performance was quite raw. Also Cathy Downs, John Litel and Jack Elam are decent in their roles.
A western that provides the usual set-up and clichés, but still mildly amusing and has a bit of style to burn.
It's entirely possible that the VHS that I watched of this film was
badly edited because the film seemed to begin in the middle.
The Cloud Brothers, Robert Sterling and John Drew Barrymore, have settled in some country where there's a nice range war in progress. They've got both big cattle baron John Litel and a group of smaller ranchers against them. All they want to do is be left alone, but neither group will allow that.
A third brother, Robert Preston, arrives on the scene. He's a noted outlaw named Kid Wichita and he really ratchets up the violence quotient. That also includes killing the sheriff who is Litel's son and Jack Elam who's married to Cathy Downs who he's taking a fancy to.
This is a nice cast and John Drew Barrymore certainly showed he had the potential to be an earlier version of James Dean. The heritage of that name proved too much for that man though.
One of the more ambitious undertakings from Eagle-Lion Studios. But The Sundowners was flawed in the execution.
The Robert Mitchum/Deborah Kerr Sundowners was far better.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I was kind of surprised that a low budget studio like Eagle-Lion would
actually fork out the cost of Technicolor film (expensive) and
on-location filming in Texas (also expensive) for what is essentially
an A- (minus) western. An A- western being something that had more
money spent on it than a B western, but lacks the star power an "A
western" would usually carry. It's not bad although the plot seems a
little disjointed at times. It could be because of what an earlier
reviewer had said about the studio atrociously editing down the running
time of the film, even after all the money they seemed to have spent on
Robert Sterling and his "Younger Brother" (played by the recently departed John Drew Barrymore) are caught between competing ranch interests (led by John Litel) who want to lay claim to his land. The sheriff (Litel's son, played by Don Haggerty) even goes so far as to have one of Sterling's ranch hands killed. In walks Sterling's long lost brother, "Kid Wichita" (Robert Preston) who decides to do a little killing for his brother on his own. Sterling even weirdly agrees to it at first but then sees it getting out of hand and decides he has to kill his brother.
There is one memorable scene of Preston being whipped by one of Litel's men as he hides under a rock outcropping, then he grabs the end of the whip and the man tumbles over the ledge to his death, but otherwise this is fairly dreary stuff. Even near the end where Sterling confronts Preston in a draw only to have Sterling's ranch hand Sam Beers (Chill Wills) shoot Preston from the side, seems anti-climatic. It's as if everyone was sleepwalking through their parts, except for Chill Wills and the young Barrymore, who spends most of his time grimacing at the camera, making faces like he's trying to act too hard. But hell, he was only 18 at the time and it was his first film so I guess that's understandable.
Also notable for as an early role for Jack Elam as Earl Boyce, a neighboring rancher that Preston guns down in his own house, and Cathy Downs plays Elam's wife who may (or may not) have a thing for Sterling. That love interest looks like one of the things edited out of this film.
The Texas scenery is more interesting than the film itself and gives the viewer a break from the usual California locations that we've seen a thousand times before. VCI used a pretty good print for their DVD with minor blemishes and scratches. Considering the film stock's age, it looks in pretty good shape.
Worth a look. I'd give it a 5½ out of 10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The summary line above, spoken by James Cloud (Robert Preston) to his
brother Tom (Robert Sterling) just about says it all. Jim, AKA Kid
Wichita, has a way of making things happen, only trouble is, he usually
leaves dead bodies where he's been. Not the sort of mentoring Tom
envisions for younger brother Jeff, who likes what he sees in Jim,
especially when defending their ranch against local Texas cattlemen.
The opening credits state 'Introducing John Barrymore Jr. as the Younger Brother', in this his very first screen appearance. That seemed rather odd to me, particularly since he was addressed as Jeff almost immediately into the story. Approximately eighteen at the time of this movie, he bears a passing resemblance to Sean Penn. No stranger to personal and legal problems throughout his career as well as estrangement from his family, I was left wondering if his daughter Drew Barrymore might have ever seen this picture. I'm inclined to think not.
On the subject of resemblances, I was also struck by the thought that the young Robert Sterling looked a bit like Roy Rogers early in his career. Knowing Sterling previously only from his role as George Kerby in the early 1950's TV series 'Topper', I thought he looked out of place in a Western, but that might just be me. His character becomes emboldened by his brother's resourcefulness at creating trouble, and provides some of the edginess to this not so typical story. Minor subplots abound, including the relationship rancher John Gall (John Litel) has with his son the Sheriff (who Kid Wichita kills), and the troubled marriage between Kathleen Boyce (Cathy Downs) and her husband Earl (who Kid Wichita kills). Chill Wills rounds out the main cast as one of Tom Cloud's hired hands, and figures in the somewhat predictable finale.
What's not quite predictable is how things eventually wind up there, and for that reason, this Western earns points for following a less traveled, hence not quite as formulaic a plot as a lot of good brother/bad brother Westerns do. Combined with the eclectic casting of the principals, it's one I'd recommend, even if you have to endure some of the jump cuts and sloppy editing that I experienced with my copy.
Sterling and younger brother try to survive on land, being squeezed by big cattlemen. When 'rogue' brother Preston arrives, a moral dilemma ensues. John 'Drew' Barrymore steals the show as the younger, impressionable brother-Barrymore shows signs here that he could have been an acting powerhouse. Moves at a nice pace to an exciting climax.
I thought this was quite enjoyable. It has some interesting character developments and some realistic depictions of what I am certain people were like in the old west. Outlaws who were usually outlaws, but sometimes good guys, and lawmen who you were sometimes not sure of. There is the big rancher who wants to rule everything and the small rancher trying to survive. There is more dialog in this then most folks are used to with a western, but that is what makes it unique. The bad guy is a rascally sort who likes to tease. You find yourself not liking his teasing all the while respecting his brashness. He is ill mannered and imposing such that you have no doubts he can be unscrupulous, but he has a way of not being revolting all the same. Some reviewers were a bit put off by the amount of talking but that is what let you get behind the mentality of the characters. I liked this movie enough to watch it again soon. There is some breathtaking scenery of Texas to be seen. Enjoy.
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