The majority of Sundown is excellent. Hathaway sort of mixes the Western and British colonial adventure genre with a World War II propaganda piece. New Mexico stands in for Kenya—it’s an interesting war film because there aren’t any Americans. Lead Bruce Cabot is playing a Canadian.
Cabot does well throughout. He handles the colonial scenes well, handing off his command to George Sanders in the first act. Sundown’s peculiar because it takes a self-indulgent pace getting to where it’s going. There’s the tension between Cabot and Sanders, but none of it is necessary to get to the finish. Neither is Joseph Calleia, who has a nice supporting role as an Italian prisoner of war who’d rather cook than fight. Or Harry Carey, who shows up in the second half as the local white hunter.
And Gene Tierney—who gets top-billing—is barely in the film until it’s a third over. It’s an early performance from her and there are ups and downs. Some of it has to do with the role (Sundown’s the one where Gene Tierney plays an Arab), but she’s also not quite ready yet. She does well with Cabot though, selling their attraction right off.
Hathaway’s direction is often fantastic, especially how he shows life on the outpost. The night scenes are problematic, Charles Lang shoots too dark and then the finale’s in a dank cave, which doesn’t film well.
The end brings in the propaganda and lays it on so heavy, Sundown sinks.
Directed by Henry Hathaway; screenplay by Barré Lyndon, based on an adaptation by Charles G. Booth and based on a story by Lyndon; director of photography, Charles Lang; edited by Dorothy Spencer; music by Miklós Rózsa; produced by Walter Wanger; released by United Artists.
Starring Gene Tierney (Zia), Bruce Cabot (William Crawford), George Sanders (Major A.L. Coombes), Harry Carey (Alan Dewey), Joseph Calleia (Pallini), Reginald Gardiner (Lt. Roddy Turner), Carl Esmond (Jan Kuypens), Marc Lawrence (Abdi Hammud), Gilbert Emery (Ashburton), Jeni Le Gon (Miriami), Emmett Smith (Kipsang) and Dorothy Dandridge (Kipsang’s Bride).