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The Sundowners
Director: Fred Zinnemann (Dir)
Release Date:   Dec 1960
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 8 Dec 1960; Los Angeles openign: 25 Dec 1960
Production Date:   early Oct 1959--mid-Feb 1960 at Associated British Pictures Corp. Studios, Elstree, England and in Australia
Duration (in mins):   133 or 141
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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)  
    Lola Brooks (Liz Brown)  
    Wylie Watson (Herb Johnson)  
    John Meillon (Bluey Brown)  
    Ronald Fraser (Clint Ocker)  
    Dick Bentley (Evan Evans)  
    Mervyn Johns (Jack Patchogue)  
    Molly Urquhart (Mrs. Bateman)  
    Ewen Solon (Halstead)  
    Renee Zinnemann (Nun)  

Summary: 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.

 

Production Company: Warner Bros. Productions, Ltd.  
  F.R.Z. Company  
Production Text: Fred Zinnemann's Production
Distribution Company: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.  
Director: Fred Zinnemann (Dir)
  Lex Halliday (2d unit dir)
  Peter Bolton (Asst dir)
  Roy Stevens (Asst dir)
Producer: Gerry Blattner (Prod)
Writer: Isobel Lennart (Scr)
Photography: Jack Hildyard (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Michael Stringer (Art dir)
Film Editor: Jack Harris (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Frants Folmer (Set dresser)
  Terence Morgan (Set dresser)
Costumes: Elizabeth Haffenden (Ward des)
  Joan Bridge (Ward col consultant)
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin (Mus comp and cond)
Sound: David Hildyard (Sd mixer)
Make Up: George Frost (Makeup)
  Gordon Bond (Hairstylist)
Production Misc: Walter Thompson (Prod assoc)
  John Palmer (Prod mgr)
  Bill Elliott (Pub)
Country: Australia, Great Britain and United States
Language: English

Music:
Songs: "The Wild Colonial Boy," words and music by Sean O'Casey and Dennis O'Casey; "Botany Bay," composer undetermined.
Composer: Dennis O'Casey
  Sean O'Casey
Source Text: Based on the novel The Sundowners by Jon Cleary (New York, 1952).
Authors: Jon Cleary

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc. 19/11/1960 dd/mm/yyyy LP21319

PCA NO: 19506
Physical Properties: Sd: RCA Sound Recording
  col: Technicolor
  Widescreen/ratio: 1.85:1

 
Genre: Comedy-drama
  Comedy-drama
Sub-Genre: Historical
  with songs
 
Subjects (Major): Australia
  Family relationships
  Maturation
  Migrant workers
  Self-sacrifice
 
Subjects (Minor): Adolescents
  Bachelors
  Bartenders
  Childbirth
  Contests
  Cooks
  Drunkenness
  English in foreign countries
  Farms
  Forest fires
  Friendship
  Gambling
  Horseracing
  Horses
  Irish
  Sheep ranchers
  Sheepherders
  Wagers
  Widows
  Wives

Note: Although most reviews state that the running time is 133 minutes, the film's copyright record and the NYT 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 6 Dec 1954 HR 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 Dec 1959 NYT 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 HR 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 Aug 1957 HR news item stated that Spelling would write the second draft of The Sundowners , according to Zinnemann's autobiography, Spelling was replaced by Isobel Lennart.
       HR production charts add Max Obiston and Mercia Barden to the cast, and HR 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 Sep 1959 HR news item adds Lionel Jefferies to the cast, he did not appear in the film.
       In an Oct 1959 LAT 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 ( Sd mixer ), Skeets Kelly ( 2d unit dir of photog ), Gerry Fisher and Nicolas Roeg ( Cam op ), Elaine Schreyeck ( Cont ) and Ron Whelan ( Loc mgr ).
       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 Apr 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 (see above), 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.

 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
American Movie Classics Magazine   Nov 1997   pp. 4-6.
Box Office   7 Nov 1960.   
Christian Science Monitor   14 Dec 1960.   
Daily Variety   27 Oct 60   p. 3.
Esquire   Dec 1960.   
Film Daily   1 Nov 60   p. 10.
Hollywood Citizen-News   27 Dec 1960.   
Hollywood Reporter   6 Dec 1954.   
Hollywood Reporter   1 May 1957   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   12 Aug 1957   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   22 May 1959   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   15 Sep 1959   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   1 Oct 1959   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   9 Oct 1959   p. 24.
Hollywood Reporter   14 Dec 1959   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   17 Dec 1959   p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter   24 Dec 1959   p. 16.
Hollywood Reporter   12 Feb 1960   p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter   27 Oct 60   p. 3.
Life   7 Nov 1960.   
LAMirror-News   31 Oct 1960.   
LAMirror-News   24 Dec 1960.   
Los Angeles Examiner   26 Dec 1960   Section 3, p. 18.
Los Angeles Times   28 Oct 1959.   
Los Angeles Times   26 Dec 1960.   
McCalls   Nov 1960.   
Motion Picture Herald   13 Sep 1961   p. 10.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   5 Nov 60   p. 907.
New York Times   20 Dec 1959.   
New York Times   9 Dec 60   p. 39.
New York Times   18 Dec 1960.   
New Yorker   17 Dec 1960.   
Newsweek   19 Dec 1960.   
Redbook   Dec 1960.   
Time   19 Dec 1960.   
Variety   2 Nov 60   p. 6.

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