Sundowners, The (1960)

Sundowners, The (1960)

“He’s a man who hates routine; what he needs is a little excitement.”

In 1920s rural Australia, a sheep drover (Robert Mitchum) and his wife (Deborah Kerr) and teenage son (Michael Anderson, Jr.) settle down briefly to shear sheep, but Kerr is eager to secure a more permanent homestead. Will she and her nomadic husband be able to come to an agreement about where to go next?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Australian Films
  • Deborah Kerr Films
  • Fred Zinneman Films
  • Glynis Johns Films
  • Marital Problems
  • Peter Ustinov Films
  • Robert Mitchum Films
  • Westerns

Three years after co-starring in John Huston’s Heaven Knows, Mr. Allyson (1957), Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr re-teamed for this comedic “meat pie western”, directed by Fred Zinneman and set in southern Australia (with ample evidence of on-location shooting). At the heart of the storyline, other than showcasing the sheep-driven existence of most of the characters:

… are the significant tensions between Mitchum and Kerr in terms of how they want to live out the rest of their lives. While Kerr accepted Mitchum’s wanderlust in their younger years, her desires have since shifted (though not her desire for Mitchum himself):

It’s realistic but painful at times to watch this likable pair work through their challenges, especially given Mitchum’s troubles with gambling. Meanwhile, the leisurely, episodic narrative shows us what life is like for those existing in this milieu — including the family’s British colleague (Peter Ustinov) romancing a local barmaid (Glynis Johns):

… their employer’s classy wife (Dina Merrill) wondering if she fits in:

… a young wife (Lola Brooks) hoping to have her husband (John Meillon) nearby when she gives birth:

… and Mitchum’s willingness to go up against a veteran sheep shearer in a betting contest:

Meanwhile, Anderson, Jr. discovers his love of horse racing:

… which leads to the film’s climactic albeit somewhat ambiguous ending. While this amiable movie isn’t must-see viewing for all film fanatics, it’s worth a look for the lead performances, and for those interested in Australia’s depiction on screen by Hollywood.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Deborah Kerr as Ida Carmody (nominated as one of the Best Actresses of the Year in Peary’s Alternate Oscars)
  • Jack Hildyard’s cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a look for Kerr’s performance. Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.


4 thoughts on “Sundowners, The (1960)

  1. Agreed; not must-see. As per my rewatch post (8/16/18) as a cusp flick in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “I never promised I wouldn’t get older and scared!”

    ‘The Sundowners’ (1960): It’s not that I don’t feel anything for gentle, episodic films about families – I lean towards one on occasion, but it depends on the specifics of the story. ~even though such films, being episodic, tend to be character studies more than story-driven.

    Teamed up again after their winning 2-hander in ‘Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison’, Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr are married this time, playing itinerant sheep drovers. (Michael Anderson is their son and Peter Ustinov is a helper they pick up along the way.)

    While she has more or less been content abiding by her husband’s wanderlust, Kerr is beginning to yearn for a real home – this is the film’s only conflict. As a result, this shamelessly pastoral flick does have something potent to say about how a marital relationship can be challenged when, years into it, one person alters while the other doesn’t – and doesn’t want to.

    Kerr never won an Oscar for an actual film but she did finally receive an honorary Oscar. She said she thought she deserved one for this film but… she’s much better in ‘Black Narcissus’, ‘The Innocents’, ‘Night of the Iguana’, even ‘Heaven Knows. Mr. Allison’. She’s certainly noble in ‘The Sundowners’ but her role, like the film, is a bit one-note and placid. Still, those who love gentle films will likely see much to love here.


    I had to work hard to respect Kerr’s decision to stay with Mitchum. I appreciate that she married him when they were young and both okay with being nomadic, but seriously – the dude has a family and needs to be willing to settle down!

    The ending, in which all troubles are laughed away (and they’re no closer to owning a home), was disappointing and frustrating to me. I’m wondering if anything else would have been seen as a compromise, somehow?

  3. Nobody ever leaves Robert Mitchum, no matter what – not unless it’s film noir. 😉

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