Cast & Crew
In Australia, in the 1920s, Irishman Paddy Carmody, who is happy with his nomadic life as a sheep drove, tells his wife Ida how lucky they are to be free from the responsibilities that having a home entails. However, although reasonably content, Ida and their teenaged son Sean quietly long for a home and stability, and when they camp near a farm for sale on the outskirts of the town of Bulinga, they become wistful. Nearly broke, Paddy gets a six-week job driving a large herd of sheep to Cawndilla for shearing.
Because Paddy needs an extra hand and an extra horse for the drive, he hires bachelor Rupert Venneker, a refined but restless Englishman who is fleeing from a husband-hungry employer. Courteous and discreet, Rupert soon fits in well with the Carmody family, and develops a rapport with young Sean, to whom he philosophically explains that he has never grown up. During the journey, the family stops overnight at the Bateman farm, where Mrs. Bateman, wife of a former drover, offers Ida the use of her stove, knowing that it is a rare luxury for a woman living out of a wagon. Later, Ida, who suffers from continual back pain, tells Paddy that she is ready to settle down and that Sean needs an education, but Paddy, who is enamored with his nomadic life, will agree only to think about it.
Near the end of their trek, Paddy spots a fire on a nearby ridge. After sending Sean and Ida ahead with the wagon, he and Rupert stay behind to drive the sheep toward the safety of the river, but become separated. When Paddy does not emerge from the smoke, Ida rides back to find him. Despite the dangers, they deliver the sheep safely to Cawndilla where they are paid for delivering the herd. After meeting Mrs. Firth, a friendly saloon and hotel owner and widow who makes her interest in him known, Rupert decides to remain, while the Carmodys rent a room, planning to head for Queensland the next day.
However, after seeing sheep shearers congregating to take seasonal jobs with local ranchers, Ida suggests to Sean that if he and Paddy take jobs, they can save enough money to settle down. Despite Paddy's restlessness, Ida finagles jobs for him and Sean with Quinlan, the foreman of the Halstead ranch. Ida wants the cook's job, but Quinlan balks at the idea of hiring a woman. Bluey Brown, the union representative, reminds Quinlan that, while he hires the men, the men hire the cook, and after sampling her cooking, the men employ Ida. Rupert, who works as a wool roller, lives in the bunkhouse with Sean and the other men, while Paddy and Ida continue to camp in their tent a few yards away. When Sean mentions his excitement at living "away" from his parents, Rupert comments that being "out in the world" is a state of mind, not geography. After the shearing begins, the ranch owner's wife, Jean Halstead, a former society girl who is overprotected and lonely, introduces herself to Ida. Soon after, Bluey's pregnant wife Liz arrives after travelling three days to be near him when she gives birth.
Although Quinlan complains that it is "against the rules" to have a shearer's wife on the ranch and Halstead worries that there is no doctor nearby, Jean offers to let Liz stay in her home. Meanwhile, the resourceful Rupert suggests challenging a neighboring ranch to a shearing contest between their fastest shearers. The Halstead men, confident Paddy will win the contest, place bets on him. Meanwhile, Paddy and Ida plan to go to town on a Saturday night, but, when Liz goes into labor, Ida remains with her. Paddy goes to the bar and, amidst the revelry of his fellow shearers, drinks alone. When Rupert returns from a theatrical production with Sean, who is giddy from the experience, Paddy offers Sean his first drink.
Later, Jean comes to the bar to fetch Bluey and returns to the ranch with the father-to-be and many other drunken shearers, who help to sober up Bluey by the time the baby is born. Annoyed that Paddy got Sean drunk, Ida slaps him, and they argue, but apologize to each other the next morning. When Paddy announces that they will leave on the following Saturday, Ida protests that they are getting older and have no security, but Paddy claims he is going with or without her. His hopes of settling down shattered, Sean confronts Ida, who explains that she must choose Paddy's wishes over Sean's. Hearing that the men feel betrayed by Paddy for backing out of their upcoming contest, Sean calls his father a "dirty dingo" and father and son nearly come to blows. Rupert finds a diplomatic solution by proposing that the men earmark a portion of their winnings to Bluey's child.
Happy to help the baby, Paddy says he will stay for the contest, and later decides to remain until the end of the shearing season. However, everyone is surprised an unlikely older man, Herb Johnson, easily beats Paddy, leaving him exhausted. Later, in a game of chance, Paddy wins £200 and a beautiful white racehorse, something he has always longed to have. The family names the horse Sundowner, which, Sean explains to Rupert, is an Australian slang for someone whose home is where the sun goes down or who has no home. Later, Ida confides to Sean that they now have £400 pounds, enough for a down payment on the farm in Bulinga, which is still for sale.
When Sean discovers he is a natural horseman, Paddy decides to enter him and Sundowner in races at small bush tracks, hoping to advance to bigger races and winnings. After the season, Rupert plans to leave with the Carmodys, although he regrets any hurt he will cause Mrs. Firth. He is very surprised when she initiates the breakup in a business-like fashion and philosophically invites him to "try his luck" again if he ever returns. Paddy enters Sean in a race at Bulinga, unaware of Ida's plans to buy the farm there. When he discovers her intentions, he is resentful, but then agrees that her idea makes sense. However, that night he gets drunk and gambles away all their money in a two-up game. The next morning, Paddy is very ashamed and although Rupert offers to give him the £100 that he has saved, the family must pass on the farm.
They now hope Sean will win the £200 prize money, so that they will have enough to live on until Paddy finds another job. Pleased when Sean wins the race, Paddy tells Ida he has arranged to sell Sundowner for £200, with which, added to the prize money, they can buy the farm. Knowing how much the horse means to Paddy, Ida refuses. As they argue, a protest is lodged over the outcome of the race. When the protest is upheld, Sundowner is disqualified. Although the family is at first upset, Ida breaks the mood by laughing. "There goes both our chances to be noble," she says to Paddy. When Sundowner's prospective buyer reneges on his agreement, saying that, because the horse lost the race, he will only pay £35, the whole family laughingly sends him away. Still amused at their luck, the Carmodys and Rupert ride off to their future, leading Sundowner.
Michael Anderson Jr.
Best Supporting Actress
Best Writing, Screenplay
- Michael Anderson, Jr. in The Sundowners (1960)
For this epic tribute to the virtues of home and family, director Fred Zinnemann took cast and crew halfway round the world to make one of the first Hollywood films shot on location in Australia. He got some stunning shots of the Outback, while also discovering that no silver screen diva could hold up a film shoot as effectively as a flock of camera-shy sheep.
Zinnemann first got the idea for a film set in Australia while working on Oklahoma! in 1955. Oscar Hammerstein's wife, Dorothy, was born in Tasmania, and strongly recommended the area as a film location. Zinnemann asked her to let him know if she found a good story with that setting, and three years later, she sent him Jon Cleary's novel Back of Beyond, about a family of sheep drovers in conflict over the wife's desire to settle down in a home of their own. Seeing the story's potential, Zinnemann sold it to Jack L. Warner.
Warner approved the project under the impression that the picture could be made inexpensively in Arizona. Then Zinnemann informed him that he wanted to take the production down under, which would add half a million dollars to the budget. After much persuasion, he convinced Warner that the actual location would make for a better film - and bigger box office. As a compromise, interiors were shot in London, where Zinnemann assembled a strong British cast and crew.
Zinnemann decided to take a chance on a promising writer who had just joined the Writer's Guild. But his script didn't work, so Zinnemann turned to Hollywood pro Isabel Lennart and beginning writer Aaron Spelling, who moved on to an illustrious career in television. Lennart's script was a bit sentimental for Zinnemann's tastes and - worse yet - just plain didn't sound Australian. So he hired the novel's author to do uncredited re-writes.
For leading lady, Zinnemann's first choice was Deborah Kerr, who had shot to stardom when he cast her against type as an earthy adulteress in From Here to Eternity (1953). He originally wanted William Holden or Gary Cooper to play her husband, who resists all efforts to settle down, but neither was available. Robert Mitchum got the role instead, turning in one of his best performances. Zinnemann quickly realized that the star's lackadaisical attitude was merely a mask for his dedication to acting. Particularly impressive was Mitchum's ability to capture the Australian accent.
Mitchum didn't have any problems with the remote Australian locations, where the temperatures often soared to 108 degrees. But he did have a problem with shearing sheep. The screen tough guy was so worried about hurting the sheep he needed a few beers before he could do the scene.
Nor was that the only problem the sheep would cause. The first day on location, all Zinnemann needed was a shot of 1,500 sheep walking past the camera. But when the first sheep came into range, it stopped dead and resisted all efforts to get it moving again. Meanwhile, the other 1,499 sheep simply walked in circles, waiting to follow their leader.
The next day, they put a tame sheep in the lead. And just to keep the flock under control, the entire crew wore dark clothes and hid behind hastily constructed hedges. They even played recordings of lambs bleating from the direction they wanted the flock to head. But the heat proved too much for the tame sheep, which fainted on the spot.
After several months in Australia, Zinnemann brought back a moving family drama that won critical raves. It also brought Kerr her fourth Best Actress award from the New York Film Critics Circle. Kerr also won her sixth Oscar® nomination for Best Actress in a wide-open race that could easily have netted her the coveted trophy - until fellow nominee Elizabeth Taylor almost died of pneumonia. Kerr graciously suggested that Taylor deserved the award for her acting, while canceling plans to fly to Hollywood for the ceremonies. She would never win the Oscar®, but years later accepted a special award for the body of her work.
The Sundowners grossed $3.8 million, an impressive figure for the period, but Zinnemann always felt it could have done better. He blamed the advertising campaign, which tried to play up a sex angle between Kerr and Mitchum that simply didn't exist in the film. Kerr suggested another reason the film fell short of blockbuster status - it was ahead of its time: "It was a no-story movie - an observation of life, with a marvelous cast."
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Producer: Gerry Blatner
Screenplay: Isobel Lennart, from the novel Back of Beyond by Jon Cleary
Cinematography: Jack Hildyard
Art Direction: Michael Stringer
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Deborah Kerr (Ida Carmody), Robert Mitchum (Paddy Carmody), Peter Ustinov (Rupert Venneker), Glynis Johns (Mrs. Firth), Dina Merrill (Jean Halstead), Chips Rafferty (Quinlan), Michael Anderson, Jr. (Sean Carmody)
by Frank Miller
The Sundowners - Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr in THE SUNDOWNERS on DVD
Synopsis: Paddy and Ida Carmody (Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr) roam the Australian outback with their young son Sean (Michael Anderson Jr.), picking up work as they go. English jack-of-all-trades Rupert Venneker (Peter Ustinov) attaches himself to the group and helps out when a brush fire threatens the flock. The Carmodys own nothing and have saved little money. Paddy likes to spend it all on weekends and not think about the future but Ida and Sean are intent on finding a way to settle down. Ida manages to keep them all working at a shearing station, and their savings grow. Rupert is even tempted to marry a local barmaid, Mrs. Firth (Glynis Johns). Although Paddy wants to please his wife, he has no intention on settling in one place, a mindset that threatens to split the marriage.
The Sundowners is an episodic tale told at a relaxed pace. Character driven stories can go slack or become repetitious, but Isobel Lennart's script keeps our interest high by reinforcing our identification with the Carmodys, Fifteen years into their marriage, Ida and Paddy have a solid relationship that includes a late night lovemaking scene. They communicate well on most matters except their basic lifestyle: Weary of cooking over campfires, Ida desperately wants a roof over her head. Paddy would prefer never to sleep in the same place twice, and would be happy if his rootless life could go on forever.
The easygoing pace allows Zinnemann to build his characters and examine the odd outback lifestyle, where most men are single and life is hard on women. Melodramatic intrigues are avoided and there are no murders or illicit romances. Someone picking up a gun does not mean that it will be used. The carousing sheep wranglers are a colorful bunch that brawls without holding grudges. The only real foe is nature. Robert Mitchum's Paddy chases off predators that threaten the flock and almost loses his life to a brush fire. He's an experienced yet emotionally immature man, prone to squandering his savings in drinking binges. The real story arc is his slow realization that he needs to respect Ida's need to put down roots.
A standard Hollywood treatment would sentimentalize this story into a family-safe domestic comedy. A feisty Colleen -- Maureen O'Sullivan? -- would throw tantrums before succumbing to John Wayne's embrace; there might be a rustic preacher around to offer spiritual comment. The Sundowners instead reflects upon the hard problems of real life. Ida is not getting any younger and has no intention of remaining homeless; the sight of a real kitchen elicits pangs of need. Ida is envious of every dowdy housewife she meets and is no longer reassured when Paddy says, "But Darlin', the whole world is our home." Ida loves Paddy's honest, sweet disposition, but their relationship has worked to this point because she defers to his wishes. Ida's the kind of woman who can join her husband in a good laugh, but she's beginning to lose her sense of humor, especially when Paddy gets irresponsibly drunk. Deborah Kerr's re-teaming with Robert Mitchum (Heaven Knows, Mr.Allison) is one of her best performances.
Mitchum once again proves his versatility by playing against type. Paddy is a good but willfully humble man determined to stay as he is. If he wins money gambling he'll more likely than not squander it away, if only to discourage Ida's ideas about down payments for a farm. He's also no superman. The other drovers enter him in a sheep-shearing contest, only to see him beaten by a little old man with a faster set of shears. Young Michael Anderson Jr. makes a strong impact as Paddy's cheerful son, sporting the smile that surely won him a role opposite Hayley Mills in Disney's In Search of the Castaways.
Providing color is Peter Ustinov's womanizing Rupert, a cashiered soldier and ex-sea captain. Rupert is also a gentleman, as is evident when he compliments Ida's marriage over the breakfast table. The other women are an interesting mix. Jean Halstead (Dina Merrill) is a city girl afraid that she's too frail and useless for outback life. Lola Brooks is a drover's bride who shows up pregnant and frightened, desperate to have her baby with her husband in attendance. And Glynis John's funny Mrs. Firth is a colorful tease with several aging bachelors on her string; she'll land one of them sooner or later.
The occasional kangaroo, wombat and koala bear prove that the show was filmed on location, and cameraman Jack Hildyard does a beautiful job of blending Australian footage with interiors filmed back in England. The Carmodys' dreams are postponed indefinitely but The Sundowners is an optimistic experience. It's reassuring to see a film family that hangs together like this one.
Warners' The Sundowners looks great in an enhanced transfer, with bold colors. The beautiful outback landscapes are a good fit for Dimitri Tiomkin's relatively restrained music score. An extra featurette On Location with The Sundowners has plenty of B&W material filmed behind the scenes in Australia.
For more information about The Sundowners, visit Warner Video. To order The Sundowners, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
The Sundowners - Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr in THE SUNDOWNERS on DVD
Sir Peter Ustinov (1921-2004)
He was born Peter Alexander Ustinov on April 16, 1921 in London, England. His father was a press attache at the German embassy until 1935 - when disgusted by the Nazi regime - he took out British nationality. He attended Westminster School, an exclusive private school in central London until he was 16. He then enrolled for acting classes at the London Theater Studio, and by 1939, he made his London stage debut.
His jovial nature and strong gift for dialects made him a natural player for films, and it wasn't long after finding theatre work that Ustinov moved into motion pictures: a Dutch priest in Michael Powell's One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1941); an elderly Czech professor in Let the People Sing (1942); and a star pupil of a Nazi spy school in The Goose Steps Out (1942).
He served in the British Army for four years (1942-46), where he found his talents well utilized by the military, allowing him to join the director Sir Carol Reed on some propaganda films. He eventually earned his first screenwriting credit for The Way Ahead (1944). One of Sir Carol Reed's best films, The Way Ahead was a thrilling drama which starred David Niven as a civilian heading up a group of locals to resist an oncoming Nazi unit. It was enough of a hit to earn Ustinov his first film directorial assignment, School for Secrets (1946), a well paced drama about the discovery of radar starring Sir Ralph Richardson and Sir Richard Attenborough.
After the war, Ustinov took on another writer-director project Vice Versa (1948), a whimsical fantasy-comedy starring Roger Livesey and Anthony Newley as a father and son who magically switch personalities. Although not a huge hit of its day, the sheer buoyancy of the surreal premise has earned the film a large cult following.
Ustinov made his Hollywood debut, and garnered his first Oscar® nomination for Best Supporting Actor, as an indolent Nero in the Roman epic, Quo Vadis? (1951). After achieving some international popularity with that role, Ustinov gave some top-notch performances in quality films: the snappish Prinny in the Stewart Granger vehicle Beau Brummel (1954); holding his own against Humphrey Bogart as an escaped convict in We're No Angels (1954); the ring master who presides over the life of the lead character in Max Ophuls's resplendent Lola Montez (1955); and a garrulous settler coping with the Australian outback in The Sundowners (1960).
The '60s would be Ustinov's most fruitful decade. He started off gabbing his first Oscar® as the cunning slave dealer in Spartacus (1960); made a smooth screen adaptation by directing his smash play, Romanoff and Juliet (1961), earned critical acclaim for his co-adaptation, direction, production and performance in Herman Melville's nautical classic Billy Budd (1962); and earned a second Oscar® as the fumbling jewel thief in the crime comedy Topkapi (1964).
He scored another Oscar® nomination in the Best Original Screenplay category for his airy, clever crime romp Hot Millions (1968), in which he played a con artist who uses a computer to bilk a company out of millions of dollars; but after that, Ustinov began taking a string of offbeat character parts: the lead in one of Disney's better kiddie flicks Blackbeard's Ghost (1968); a Mexican General who wants to reclaim Texas for Mexico in Viva Max! (1969); an old man who survives the ravaged planet of the future in Logan's Run (1976); and an unfortunate turn as a Chinese stereotype in Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen (1981). Still, he did achieve renewed popularity when he took on the role of Hercule Poirot in the star laced, Agatha Christie extravaganza Death on the Nile (1978). He was such a hit, that he would adroitly play the Belgian detective in two more theatrical movies: Evil Under the Sun (1982) and Appointment With Death (1988); as well as three television movies: Thirteen at Dinner (1985), Murder in Three Acts, Dead Man's Folly (both 1986).
Beyond his work in films, Ustinov was justifiably praised for his humanitarian work - most notably as the unpaid, goodwill ambassador for United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Since 1968, he had traveled to all corners of the globe: China, Russia, Myanmar, Cambodia, Kenya, Egypt, Thailand and numerous other countries to promote and host many benefit concerts for the agency.
Ustinov, who in 1990 earned a knighthood for his artistic and humanitarian contributions, is survived by his wife of 32 years, Hélène du Lau d'Allemans; three daughters, Tamara, Pavla, Andrea; and a son, Igor.
by Michael T. Toole
Sir Peter Ustinov (1921-2004)
Although most reviews state that the running time is 133 minutes, the film's copyright record and the New York Times review list the duration as 141 minutes. The studio's production notes for The Sundowners report that portions of folk songs "Lime Juice Tub," "The Overlanders" and "Moreton Bay" were sung or played in the pub scenes.
Although a December 6, 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that producer Joseph Kaufman had taken an option on the Jon Cleary novel, his contribution to the final film, if any, has not been determined. According to a December 1959 New York Times article, producer-director Fred Zinnemann's inspiration to film The Sundowners came from lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II's Tasmanian-born wife Dorothy, who urged him to make a film about Australia, a country that had rarely been featured in international films. Mrs. Hammerstein sent Zinnemann and his wife books with an Australian setting, among them, Cleary's The Sundowners. After settling on The Sundowners, Zinnemann had to convince Warner Bros. to shoot the film in Australia, rather than a less expensive location site, such as Arizona or California. Eventually, according to Zinnemann's autobiography, Jack Warner agreed to "follow the production pattern" of the successful Warner Bros. film The Nun's Story (see entry above), by basing the film in London, and allowing some exteriors to be shot in Australia.
According to a May 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item, Zinnemann was planning to produce and direct the film under his F.R.Z. Company and signed Aaron Spelling to write the screenplay. Although an August 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that Spelling would write the second draft of The Sundowners, according to Zinnemann's autobiography, Spelling was replaced by Isobel Lennart.
Hollywood Reporter production charts add Max Obiston and Mercia Barden to the cast, and Hollywood Reporter news items add the following actors to the cast: Barbara Llewellyn, Gerry Duggan, Leonard Teale, Peter Carver, Ken Broadbent, John Fegan, Gwen Plumb, John Tate, Alex Kelleway, Jackie Knott, Frank Taylor, Robert Leach, Cliff Neat, Betty Lucas and Mavis Magnamara. None of the above-named actors' appearance in the film has been confirmed. Although a September 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item adds Lionel Jefferies to the cast, he did not appear in the film.
In an October 1959 Los Angeles Times article, Zinnemann's wife Renee stated that she played a nun at the railway station. Although she is too far away to be identified, two nuns appear in the sequence depicting the arrival of the "Carmodys" and "Rupert Venneker" in Cawndilla. A modern source adds Ray Barrett and Alister Williamson to the cast. Sixteen-year-old Michael Anderson, Jr., who portrayed "Sean," was the son of noted British producer and director Michael Anderson, and had appeared previously in British films and television shows.
According to Zinnemann's autobiography, champion jockey Neville Sellwood was Anderson's horse riding double. Modern sources add the following crew members: Robert Lennard and Gloria Payten (Casting), Keith Batten (Sound Mixer), Skeets Kelly (2d unit dir of photog), Gerry Fisher and Nicolas Roeg (Camera Operator), Elaine Schreyeck (Continuity) and Ron Whelan (Location Manager).
The film's production notes state that interiors were shot at Associated British Pictures Corp. studios iin Elstree, England and exteriors were shot in Australia at Cooma, Nimmitabel and Jindabyne of New South Wales and in Port Augusta, Whyalla, Quorn, Iron Knob, Hawker and Carriewerloo in South Australia. The Sundowners was shot in a 1.85:1 frame ratio, because, according to April and May 1959 HR news items, Zinnemann believed that the large screen process did not "adapt to closeup work."
The Sundowners received six Academy Award nominations: The film was nominated for Best Picture and Zinnemann was nominated for Best Director, but in both cases lost to United Artists' The Apartment. Deborah Kerr and Glynis Johns were nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively, but lost to Elizabeth Taylor in Butterfield 8 and Shirley Jones in Elmer Gantry. The Sundowners was also nominated for Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, but lost again to Elmer Gantry (see entries above for winning films).
Kerr and Mitchum appeared together in two other films, the 1957 Twentieth Century-Fox film, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, which was directed by John Huston, and the 1961 Universal film The Grass is Greener, which was directed by Stanley Donen (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70). They also appeared together in the 1985 television movie, Reunion at Fairborough, which was directed by Herbert Wise.
Voted Best Actor (Mitchum--shared with his work in "Home From the Hill") and one of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1960 National Board of Review.
Voted Best Actress (Kerr) by the 1960 New York Film Critics Association.
Winner of a 1960 Special Merit Award at the Golden Globes.
Released in United States on Video January 29, 1992
Released in United States Winter December 1960
Rleased in the USA December, 1960
Released in United States on Video January 29, 1992
Released in United States Winter December 1960