3 July 2006 | Bunuel1976
SUNDOWN (Henry Hathaway, 1941) **1/2
This old-fashioned desert adventure set during WWII features a very good cast (Gene Tierney, Bruce Cabot, George Sanders, Joseph Calleia, Harry Carey, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Reginald Gardiner, Marc Lawrence, Gilbert Emery) and solid production values but is not particularly distinguished or even memorable. Even so, the film did manage to earn 3 Academy Award nominations for Alexander Golitzen's art direction, Charles Lang's cinematography and Miklos Rosza's music.
While Tierney is the film's nominal star, she actually doesn't have that much of a role playing a native girl who goes to work as an agent for the British against the Germans. Hardwicke, then, only appears at the very end, as a pastor delivering a stirring sermon in a dilapidated church which prefigures Henry Wilcoxon's similar role in William Wyler's MRS. MINIVER (1942). Harry Carey, too, is not given much to do but Marc Lawrence makes for a menacing treacherous native and Cabot and Sanders are their usual reliable selves in competing for the attentions of Ms. Tierney. Surprisingly, however - or perhaps not, having previously wooed Mae West in MY LITTLE CHICKADEE (1940) - it's our very own Joseph Calleia (playing an Italian P.O.W. who acts as cook to his captors and is given to hollering operatic arias every once in a while - Calleia had, in fact, been a professional opera singer before moving to Hollywood) who is Tierney's confidante. Being Maltese, I have to say that it was a joy for me to watch him in the company of such an alluring star, not to mention playing against one of my favorite character actors George Sanders. Intriguingly, the IMDb states that Dorothy Dandridge (as a teenage native about to be forced to marry a wealthy older man), Rory Calhoun, Woody Strode and even future Cult Italian director Riccardo Freda make an appearance in this one but, apart from Dandridge, I didn't catch them!
Despite Henry Hathaway's reputation as one of Hollywood's top action directors - having made, among others, the seminal THE LIVES OF A BENGAL LANCER (1935) - here he is let down by a second-rate script (courtesy of Barre' Lyndon and Charles G. Booth) which is ultimately just a rehash of GUNGA DIN (1939) and updated to the WWII era. A competent escapist adventure and time-waster, then, but regrettably enough given the talent at hand, nothing more...