Wandering outlaw “Bren” O’Malley (Kirk Douglas) rides out of the dust of the hills to a remote Mexican ranch. He’s come looking for a girl he loved and left, Belle (Dorothy Malone) now grown up and married to alcoholic ex-Confederate officer John Breckenridge (Joseph Cotton), and with a tomboyish daughter, Missy (Carol Lynley) on the cusp of womanhood. Hot on O’Malley’s trail is Texas lawman Dana Stribling (top-billed Rock Hudson), who has very personal reasons for bringing him back across the border to justice.
Breckenridge needs help running his cattle herd up north through hostile territory. O’Malley signs up for one-fifth of the herd and a promise to Breckenridge to take his wife from him.
O’Malley talks Stribling into joining up as trail boss. The tension between the two men escalates further as Belle’s affections begin to turn toward Stribling, and Missy becomes more and more enamored with the charming killer O’Malley. Through the travails and dangers of the cattle drive (including a run-in with three unscrupulous rustlers, played by Jack Elam, Neville Brand and James Westmoreland), the two men eventually develop a grudging respect for each other. But that may not be enough to prevent the inevitable showdown between them…
The Last Sunset carries on the “psychological western” tradition which began in the 1950s and was most notably developed by directors like Anthony Mann and Budd Boetticher. It’s a pretty twisted tale with a lot of raw emotion laid out there for all to see, all woven into the standard western format of the epic cattle drive. Its edgy character dynamics make for interesting viewing. It has all the standard elements that western fans like myself love so much – fistfights, tense standoffs, gunplay, plentiful scenes of cowboys riding through panoramic vistas, dusty frontier towns, camaraderie around the campfire, and men and women forced by their own personal codes into making tough choices that will forever change the course of their lives. To that is added an extra layer of complexity, courtesy of a script that isn’t afraid to go to some dark, unsavory places.
Classic movie fan confession…until now, I had never seen a Douglas Sirk movie.
While the credits were rolling on the delightful comedy Has Anybody Seen My Gal, I was pretty shocked when I saw “Directed by Douglas Sirk.”
You see, Douglas Sirk is nowadays most famous for directing a number of melodramatic “weepies” like Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind and Imitation of Life. I’ve been aware of these films for years, but have not made much of an effort to see them, as that’s far from my favorite genre.
But after having watched Has Anybody Seen My Gal, I can see that Sirk was far more than "just" a director of tearjerkers and social issues films. Early in his career (late 40s to the mid-50s) he made all kinds of films: musicals, crime dramas, wartime thrillers, swashbucklers and even westerns. In other words, he was just like many other journeyman directors, churning out quality mid-budget product for the major studios (in his case, Universal.)
Has Anybody Seen My Gal fits into this early period, and is far removed from his later serious works. It’s a light, joyful and witty tale, with lots of laughs and a simple moral.
After a title card that reads: "This is a story about money -- Remember it?", the movie opens in the late 1920s, with aging multimillionaire Sam Fulton (Charles Coburn) in bed, talking to his doctor and his lawyer. It quickly becomes apparent that the old man isn’t sick in the slightest, but is rather something of a hypochondriac. Fulton has summoned his lawyer because he wants to change his will.
Seems when he was a young man, he was in love with woman named Millicent, who spurned him and married someone else. This rejection so infuriated Fulton that he went out and made himself a fortune. Now in his 70s and with no family or heirs of his own, Fulton is contemplating giving his money to Millicent’s daughter Harriet Blaisdell and her family. His lawyer persuades him to go and investigate the family first, to see if they’re worthy of his legacy. So Fulton heads to the small town of Hilverton, where the Blaisdell family lives, and insinuates himself into their busy household as a paying lodger, “John Smith.”
Opinionated ramblings about new and old movies (mostly old, as that's the way I like 'em!)
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