Review: 'The Last Sunset' a Mediocre Mess

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday October 12, 2021

Apparently, Robert Aldrich's "The Last Sunset" had three working titles before they set upon this unmemorable one. "The Day of the Gun" (the novel by Richard Telfair, bought by Kirk Douglas, from which the story was said to have been based), "Journey Into Sunset," and "The Hot Eye of Heaven" were all considered. Note: the screen credit in the film has it based on a novel by Howard Rigsby called "Sundown at Crazy Horse." A rather confusing start to a convoluted script by the blacklisted uber-talent Dalton Trumbo. This film was released in 1961 after the highly successful collaboration of Douglas and Trumbo on "Spartacus."

The plot of this western melodrama, set in Mexico, has Brendan O'Malley (Douglas) arriving at the home of Belle Breckenridge (Dorothy Malone), an old girlfriend who is now married and has a teen daughter, Melissa (Carol Lynley). Hot on his trail is Sheriff Dana Stribling (Rock Hudson), ready to bring him back to Texas to stand trial for murdering his brother-in-law. Lots of plot gets in the way, including the need to get a herd of cattle across the border, as well as protect Mr. Breckenridge (a rather wasted Joseph Cotten) from getting himself killed. Oh, and O'Malley is now crushing on the way-too-young Melissa, while Dana has the hots for Belle.

There's a very taboo twist you might see coming (I did), and then doubt you could be right — especially after a certain scene — since the film was made in the early '60s. Does it make the film more interesting? Yes. But instead of following the fascinating explorations that such a reveal would warrant, the narrative takes the facile way out and shuts down any examination.

Trumbo left the set to work on "Exodus" and returned later in the shoot, so I'm guessing this is another of a legion of projects that got green lit with a semi-wonky script because of the names involved. Douglas did not get along with Aldrich, who did get along with Hudson. Sounds like a more interesting melodrama offscreen.

There are too many things wrong with the film. A kidnapping scene in the latter portion shows the director has no sense of suspense — it looks like a Keystone Cops movie. The matching throughout is atrocious, and things often make little sense. An example: At one point, a trio of sinister looking cowboys show up wanting to help move the cattle, and neither Hudson nor the distrusting Douglas interrogate them. They simply hire them!

Hudson comes off best, tempering his anger with pathos and playing his characters conflict superbly. It's also fun to watch his machismo come out when he assertively courts Malone.

Douglas has less of a role to play, so it's no wonder the actor was pissed during the shoot. Still, he manages some real warmth in the very uncomfortable (for both he and the audience) scenes with Lynley.

Malone is also saddled with an underwritten part, but she makes the most of it. Her face speaks volumes.

A super young Lynley is spirited and sweet.

The best scene in the film involves a mourning calf with Hudson sweetly showing Lynley how to give the animal a new mother to follow.

This brand new 2K Master Blu-ray is not without its flaws visually. There is quite a bit of fuzziness, and the film's wear shows. The sound is good (and Ernest Gold's score is a treat).

And an audio commentary with my new favorite film critic Nick Pinkerton is brimming with knowledge.

Pick up "The Last Sunset" to add to your Rock Hudson collection. He's terrific, and terrifically sexy in it.

Blu-ray Extras Include:

  • Brand New 2K Master
  • New Audio Commentary by Film Critic Nick Pinkerton
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Optional English Subtitles

    "The Last Sunset" is available on Blu-ray on October 12, 2021.

    Frank J. Avella is a film and theatre journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep. Frank is a recipient of a 2019 International Writers Retreat Residency at Arte Studio Ginestrelle (Assisi, Italy), a 2018 Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, a 2016 Helene Wurlitzer Residency Grant and a 2015 NJ State Arts Council Fellowship Award. He is an award-winning screenwriter and playwright (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW, FIG JAM, VATICAN FALLS) and a proud member of the Dramatists Guild.