Friday, June 21, 2019

THE BLIZZARD OF OZ BLOGATHON: The Sundowners (1960)


Click here to join the journey as Quiggy of The Midnite Drive-In takes us on a journey to movies set or made in Australia with The Blizzard of Oz Blogathon running on June 21-23.

John Cleary's acclaimed 1952 novel The Sundowners was a natural for the movies with its colourful characters and unique setting of 1920s Australia. Independent producer Joe Kaufman commissioned a script in 1954 but was unable to complete the project. Warner Brothers released their film in 1960. Fred Zinnemann (High Noon, From Here to Eternity) directed the Isobel Lennart (Love Me or Leave Me, Holiday Affair) screenplay on location in Australia, with interior filming at Elstree Studios in England.

The Sundowners was nominated for 5 Academy Awards for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Deborah Kerr for Best Actress, and Glynis Johns for Best Supporting Actress. Deborah Kerr won Best Actress from BAFTA and from the New York Films Critics Circle Awards.

Deborah Kerr as Ida Carmody

"If we have to live in a tent I say we keep moving. That way, we've got an excuse for not having a home. I'm sick of other people's sympathy. And that's what we always get if we stay too long near any one town."

The sundowners in our story are the Comody family. Paddy keeps on the move, finding work as a drover. His wife Ida, and teenage son Sean love Paddy dearly but are getting fed up with their wandering existence. However, the closer Ida and Sean get to their dream, the farther Paddy gets from his.

Robert Mitchum as Paddy Carmody

"Do you suppose the poor coot on that farm can just come and go like we do?"

The time we spend with the family, Paddy has a herd of sheep to deliver which requires his hiring an extra drover. Into their lives comes Rupert Venneker, an educated and perhaps titled Englishman, with an itch to wander as strong as Paddy's. Rupert has a way with the ladies and a philosophical nature which appeals to young Sean. He attaches himself to the Carmody family, like a pet.


Peter Ustinov as Rupert Venneker

"Pay a woman a compliment, she tries to turn it into a contract."

Ida and Sean have become attached to a farm for sale by one of their campgrounds. In order to raise money for a down payment, Paddy is convinced to take on a job of sheep shearing. The Halstead ranch needs a lot of hands for the job and along with Paddy, Sean becomes a tar boy, Rupert a wool roller, and Ida the cook.

Ida relishes having a real kitchen instead of cooking over an open fire. Sean is "away from home" for the first time as he socializes with the other workers. Ida enjoys the companionship of the ranch owner's society wife played by Dina Merrill. Ida is also indispensable when the wife of a shearer arrives to have their first child near to her husband.

The other shearers are working toward goals, like their own shop or pub, but Paddy only feels constrained by this makeshift community. He feels that the family doesn't need the money; refusing to recognize Ida and Sean's strong feelings about the farm.


Glynis Johns as Mrs. Firth

"You should've come sooner, you would've heard me singing. I've got a voice like a foghorn but I enjoy myself. I don't think life's worth living unless you enjoy yourself, eh?"

In town, hotelier Mrs. Firth becomes a friend to all, especially to Rupert. Their relationship is delightful to watch unfold. Look for a scene where Mervyn Johns (Glynis' father) is cast as a former suitor being put in his place.

Life with these wanderers is never boring and frequently dangerous. The drovers encounter with a wildfire is harrowing. Scenes of shearing the sheep are very interesting and enlightening. You might find your back aching in sympathy with Paddy.
  

Michael Anderson Jr. as Sean Carmody

"I get sick of being told I'm too young like it's a disease or something."

A crisis comes to the family when a put-upon Paddy disappoints Ida for personal reasons, and his fellow workers when he lets those personal reasons get in the way of their plans. Paddy has been appointed Team Halstead in a shearing contest with a competing ranch and he intends to back out and leave before the end of the season. Rupert is the mender of bridges in this case.

The family's fortunes next rise and fall when a racehorse comes into their lives. Sean was born to be a jockey, and Paddy sees a way out of the mortgage. A race will be the turning point for the family in the most unexpected of ways. Paddy's wanderlust and Ida's love always find a way.


Dimitri Tiomkin's score for The Sundowners draws on traditional folk tunes such as The Queensland Drover, Botany Bay, The Lime Juice Tub, and Moreton Bay.



Bonus:


Deborah Kerr and Robert Mitchum at Mascot Airport, 1959. Exterior filming in Australia has ended and it is off to England for the interior shots. Thanks to Walter S., for confirmation.















28 comments:

  1. I probably know the answer, but I’ll ask anyway: does Mitchum put on the accent?

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    1. He does. He's fully committed, and being a musical sort of person, he has a good ear. I think it works. At the very least, he remains consistent.

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  2. The first time I saw this, eons ago, I was underwhelmed. But I watched it again a couple of years ago and fell in love with this film. The characters draw you into their world – thanks to the script and the excellent performances.

    It's a rainy day where I am, a perfect day for a rewatch! :)

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    1. I was the same way. I guess we had to grow into the movie. Once we find the love for The Sundowners, it is very strong.

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  3. Paddy Lee, a wonderful write-up of one of my favorite movies. THE SUNDOWNERS(1960) is a joy for the eyes to feast upon. Jack Hildyard's photography is breathtaking in the outback of Australia. I first saw this movie as a youngster and I can still receive joy from watching it today.

    THE SUNDOWNERS triggers my memory of my paternal grandparents, not that they were anything like Ida(Deborah Kerr) and Paddy(Robert Mitchum) Carmody, but in their fiddle-footedness. Grandpa Charlie would hitch up the mules to the wagon, which would be loaded with the family's scant possessions, and they would leave on a journey to another hardscrabble place. This is the way they lived during the 1920's-1940's in the Ozark Mountains region.

    Deborah Kerr and Robert Mitchum have such grand acting chemistry in such a personal way. They make such an appealing star team in this realistic credible portrait of marriage. Fact is, this is a rarity in movies, because this is a love story between two adults, who have been married a long time.

    Deborah and Robert made three other movies together: HEAVEN KNOWS, MR. ALLISON(1957), THE GRASS IS GREENER(1960), and the HBO-TV movie REUNION AT FAIRBOROUGH(1985). The two stars enjoyed an enduring friendship that lasted until Robert Mitchum’s death in 1997.

    Paddy Lee I hope you are doing well on this first day of Summer.

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    1. Walter, it is indeed a joy that summer is here. I almost snapped a picture of a cardinal in the front yard, but I wasn't quick enough getting the phone out of my purse.

      I loved hearing about your grandparents. We know so many interesting folks in our real life that it makes it such a pleasure to recognize the realness in the characters played by Deborah and Robert in The Sundowners. They stand out for that very fact.

      Enjoy all of this lovely time of year.

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  4. DINA MERRILL-I really like her work in movies! I remember her from OPERATION PETTICOAT, DONT GIVE UP THE SHIP, DESK SET, and especially THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIES FATHER with GLENN FORD and RONNY HOWARD. The first one had CARY GRANT and TONY CURTIS. Cary was once married to heiress BARBARA HUTTON-the cousin of Dina. I also like CLIFF ROBERTSON who is the second ex-husband of Dina. Cliff was on FALCON CREST as MICHAEL, a doctor, who is the cousin of Chase(ROBERT FOXWORTH). I either didn't know or didn't remember that Dina and her husband TED HARTLEY bought RKO in 1989.

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    1. Dina Merrill has a lovely role in The Sundowners as the station owner's wife trying to find her place in a foreign situation.

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  5. PEYTON PLACE alert-according to imdb the first credit of Ted Hartley was in the prime-time soap as REV. JERRY BEDFORD. It has that he did 12 episodes, 11 in 1965 and 1 in 1966.

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  6. I like telling about trivia-as you know. According to Wiki GARY COOPER was to play Paddy but couldn't because of poor health. Also I remember that FRED ZINNEMANN directed OKLAHOMA! starring GORDON MACRAE.

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    1. Zinnemann made many excellent movies. I can't think of one that didn't impress me. I'm so used to Mitchum in The Sundowners that I simply can't imagine Cooper in the role. Interesting trivia.

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  7. What a cast! Can’t believe I have never seen this one...I adore Deborah Kerr and am fascinated to see her play opposite the virile yet strangely tender Mitchum. Glynis Johns and Ustinov are brilliant in everything...and your wonderful article makes me put this right on my must see soon list!
    - Chris

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    1. I'm sure you will appreciate and enjoy this movie. Each of Kerr and Mitchum's pairings are so different from each other, yet feel so perfect.

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  8. This was such a wonderful movie, with such detail of the roving life of the Carmodys. The actors were all great, even Peter Ustinov managing to hold back his usual tics and give a real performance (and the scene when Glynis Johns puts him in his place is priceless). Thanks for such a great write-up, it brought the film back to me. If only a sequel could have been made; you just wanted to keep on traveling with the Carmodys.

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    1. It's true. The Carmodys are quite a clan, and we need to see what happened to Sean and his folks next.

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  9. MITCHUM was in TILL THE END OF TIME(1946) with GUY MADISON and BILL WILLIAMS as MARINES returning home after the war. It also starred DOROTHY MCGUIRE as the girlfriend of GUY. The movie also had RUTH NELSON,TOM TULLY & JEAN PORTER (a perky and delightful actress). The novel was by NIVEN BUSCH who at that time was married to TERESA WRIGHT who that same year was in THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES which was much more well-known. It was also about three veterans returning home.

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    1. Till the End of Time is a very interesting movie. Guy Madison was quite young and untested, but Mitchum and Williams made up for his lack of experience, as well as Dorothy McGuire.

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  10. Do you know the work of DINA MERRILL very well? She guest-starred on MURDER, SHE WROTE and HOTEL. Also BATMAN with her then-husband CLIFF ROBERTSON. Like I stated earlier she and her husband TED HARTLEY bought RKO so that's one thing they have in common with LUCY & DESI!

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    1. I have seen the elegant Ms. Merrill guesting on many television series through the years from Bonanza to Ellery Queen, from "Bilko" to Mission Impossible.

      The 1961 movie Twenty Plus Two gave Dina one of her more interesting and complicated roles although overall I don't feel the movie worked as well as her performance.

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  11. It's a lovely film. The cast was great too. Nice review! :)

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    1. Thanks. I hope folks who haven't seen The Sundowners yet will give it a chance. They may just find a new favourite.

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  12. I mentioned OKLAHOMA earlier which is a musical so I think this post will fit in with that. JUDY GARLAND who did quite a few musicals and played DOROTHY in THE WIZARD OF OZ died JUNE 22, 1969 so today is the 50th anniversary of her passing. I also saw Judy in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, PIGSKIN PARADE(which had BETTY GRABLE before she became the lead in musicals) and her next-to-last movie A CHILD IS WAITING with BURT LANCASTER and LEE J. COBB. P.S. LANCASTER starred with DEBORAH KERR in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY.

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    1. A Child is Waiting is a story that moves me. Our son is autistic/developmentally delayed and loving him has introduced us to many new perspectives. Judy's dramatic talent is the equal of her musical genius. I think she would have worked well with Fred Zinnemann and it is a shame that such a project never happened.

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  13. I want to mention LORNA LUFT, the youngest daughter of JUDY GARLAND. I watched TRAPPER JOHN, M.D. and she was on the final season(1985-86) as nurse LIBBY KEGLER. This was the same season JANIS PAIGE was on the show as new administrator CATHERINE HACKETT. Also Lorna did two eps of MURDER, SHE WROTE. The first one also had VIVIAN BLAINE(STATE FAIR with JEANNE CRAIN, DANA ANDREWS & DICK HAYMES). Lorna did a lot of stage work. According to WIKI she played the part of THE WICKED WITCH OF THE WEST in a London production of THE WIZARD OF OZ!

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    1. One of my favourite bits of show biz trivia is Lorna playing Vivian Blaine's daughter in that Murder, She Wrote episode Broadway Malady. Vivian is mot famous as the original Adelaide in Guys and Dolls on Broadway and in the movie. Adelaide is also a roll that Lorna played on tour and a revival. A couple of very talented women.

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  14. Well, now I just have to see this!

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    1. It's a dandy! I'm sure you will be impressed.

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    2. Both Mitchum and Ustinov are always a good time, so I'm sure I will be!

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