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SUNDOWN

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Gene Tierney, Bruce Cabot, George Sanders, Harry Carey
Director:  Henry Hathaway
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Full Frame 1.37:1
Studio:  TCM
Features:  See Review
Length:  91 Minutes
Release Date:  August 30, 2010

Available exclusively at tcm.com

Film **

When reading the description on the back of the DVD case, you can almost see the words flying out at you from the movie screen:  ďDangerous!  Intriguing!  Fascinating!  The Adventure That Has Everything!Ē  Yet, for all its braggadocio, Sundown is a curiously flat picture all around, with substandard writing, a somewhat convoluted plot, and performances that are a bit thin considering the terrific talent involved.

The story takes place on and around a British army post in Africa, once led by Captain Bill Crawford (Cabot), but now under the jurisdiction of newly arrived Major Coombes (Sanders).  Coombes is appalled at the shoddy running of the post, learning that natives come and go as they please, and prisoners of war arenít kept locked up.  His intention is to tighten the reigns, particularly since he brings news that some unknown source has been smuggling rifles to the natives right under their noses.

An interesting curve (no pun intended) occurs when the beautiful Zia (Tierney) arrives on the scene.  She happens to run the largest camel caravan and string of markets across the African continent, all left to her by her late husband.  If the enemy is indeed smuggling arms, her connections might be the best route they have.

But no matter whoís aiding the smuggling, Crawford eventually decides a risky suicide mission into the nativeís camp to seize or destroy the cache of armsóan adventure that becomes even more perilous when itís learned they have not only rifles, but machine guns as well.

I have a feeling that somewhere inside Sundown was a much more interesting picture trying to get out.  The basic story structure was good, though in my opinion, not handled as well as it should have been, and lacking the sense of urgency it demanded.  The somewhat lifeless script removed a lot of the charisma from Cabot (most known for playing Jack in the original King Kong) and Sanders, a favorite of mine who would eventually score an Oscar for his role in All About Eve. 

And Gene Tierney is an interesting story in her own right.  Well reputed as a talented comic actress on Broadway, she was wooed to Hollywood by studios who were mainly just interested in getting her amazingly pretty face on the screen.  She was only twenty years old when she made Sundown, and three years away from her most memorable role in Laura, but already suffering gross miscasting.  Sheís no doubt one of the most beautiful women to ever come out of Hollywood, and her presence in this film is certainly welcome in my book, but this kind of role certainly didnít showcase any of her talentójust her looks.

Butóit sort of goes along with the principle of style over substance this film clings to.  Its best asset is the beautiful, Oscar nominated cinematography that lovingly photographs the African landscapes and skies.  The cast and the story might have still played second fiddle to it even if both were a little better.

Perhaps worst of all, though, is the ending, which takes place in London and is essentially the Europeans patting themselves on the back for how noble they were in their protection and care of the African people.  Forgive me, but Iím not going to TOUCH that one.

BONUS:  Keep an eye out for Dorothy Dandridge in a small scene.

Video **

This is my first experience with a product from one of my favorite cable channels, Turner Classic Movies.  They're the network that delivers quantity and quality of vintage Hollywood films uncut and commercial-free, just for die hard fans like me.  This DVD is available exclusively at their website, tcm.com, and I was keen to give it a spin.

However, from beginning to end, I couldnít help but notice the inherent softness in the transfer, and general lack of good detail in images.  Sometimes, for example, when foreground characters stand against a much lighter background, their facial features practically vanish.  The picture exhibits a good range between true whites and blacks, but darker scenes suffer from a bit of haziness thatís extremely noticeable.  Thereís no noticeable grain, but there are some bits of shimmer around the edges of the frame from time to time.  Overall, the disc is certainly watchable, but not one thatís going to inspire pride in DVD owners.

Audio *

Sadly, the audio fares much worse than the video.  This is one thin sounding Dolby Digital mono soundtrack, and one of the noisiest Iíve ever heard.  From start to finish, itís filled with annoying hiss, pops and scratchiness.  Dialogue is only adequately recorded, as sometimes, when a character speaks in a lower tone, words are completely lost (and the lack of subtitles or closed captioning doesnít help in this area).  The picture received another Oscar nomination for its score, but the music suffers from the same thinness and noise as the dialogue.  Iíd have to rate this as one of the worst overall audio tracks Iíve yet heard on DVD.

Features *1/2 

The disc contains galleries of behind-the-scenes photos, lobby cards, press and publicity stills, posters, and pressbook, plus an article from Turner Classic Movies and some trivia.

Summary:

Sundown boasts a great cast, but is a bit off the beaten path as far as what I would consider a true Hollywood classic.

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