1960 / Best Actress / Best Director / Best Picture / Best Supporting Actress

Film #253: The Sundowners (1960)

Deborah Kerr is an actress we’ve seen a lot throughout the blog most notably in the 1950s where she featured in the likes of Separate Tables, The King and I and From Here to Eternity. Kerr is almost the Peter O’Toole of the Best Actress Oscar with a massive six nominations to her name and not one win. The film for which she received her sixth and final nomination saw her reunite with From Here to Eternity director Fred Zinneman as she played the female lead in The Sundowners.

Zinemmans film, adapted from John Cleary’s book of the same name, introduces us to the Carmody family; a trio of sheep-herders who trek across Australia’s back country. Robert Mitchum plays the family’s patriarch Paddy, who loves the nomadic lifestyle he’s instilled in his family. He also feels that it’s good for his son Sean to experience life the same way that he did. However, this viewpoint is not shared by Kerr’s Ida, who wants her family to settle down and move onto a farm. Soon enough the Carmodys make a new friend in the form of rough-and-ready Englishman Rupert who joins them when they move into a sheep station. This station sees the men experience more masculine endeavours whilst Ida becomes close to the station owner’s wife. Their time at the station also makes Ida long for a stable life for her and her family however Paddy has other ideas. The final third of The Sundowners then gets a bit hectic with Sean somehow becoming a jockey in the process. But thankfully, the end of the film sees the Carmodys realise that staying together is the most important thing no matter where they do it.
Going into The Sundowners I wasn’t expecting a great deal so I enjoyed what was an enjoyable film about what it takes to be a family. Deborah Kerr’s performance was particularly powerful as she portrayed Ida as a woman who was sick of moving round and wanted to a have a home of her own. I would go as far as to say as Kerr carried the film as she was the only person to bring a particularly emotional edge to the performance. I do feel that Kerr should have won the Oscar this year as it would’ve been a good idea to honour her for all of her past performances but unfortunately this wasn’t the case. Although he seemed to be having fun with the role, Robert Mitchum did little for me and didn’t have the subtlety to pull off some of Paddy’s more emotional scenes. Stellar support was provided by the fantastic Peter Ustinov who was great as the eloquent but scruffy Rupert. Ustinov also had a brilliant chemistry with Glynis Johns who played his on/off love interest and landlady Mrs Firth. Having only known Johns from Mary Poppins it was interesting to see her here in a very different role which earned her only Oscar nomination. As you can imagine from a Zinneman film, the location shots were perfectly done and the Australian exteriors really became a character in their own right. In fact Zinneman was adamant that all of The Sundowners be shot on location and I definitely believe that it added a certain authenticity to the film. Although it’s not an outstanding piece of work, I found The Sundowners an easy watch which was bolstered by some fine performances and an interesting ending.


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