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Hurry Sundown

Director: Otto Preminger
Screenwriter: Horton Foote, Thomas Ryan
Starring: Michael Caine, Jane Fonda, Faye Dunaway, John Phillip Law
Release details: Paramount Pictures, USA 1967, 146mins
Full details: IMDb
Genre: Overwrought melodrama
Rating: 2 out of 10

By this late stage in his career, the once-great Preminger was reduced to cranking out big-money adaptations of best sellers. But, as we have seen from virtually every Stephen King book ever filmed (prison tales aside), being a best seller doesn't necessarily translate into being a decent film. Without having read the source novels by husband and wife team KB Gilden, it's hard to judge whether the film has been kind to their work or not, but the script itself is woeful in plotting, pace and characterisation.

Immediately after WWII, in a small Georgia town brimming with racial tension, Henry Warren (Caine) is trying to pull off a large real estate deal whose success depends on buying up two pieces of land: one belonging to his cousin, Rad (Law, The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming), and his wife (Faye Dunaway), the other to Rose Scott, a black woman who used to work for Henry's in-laws.

Henry is also a serial womaniser whose own wife Julie (an appealing but wasted Fonda) has taken to alcohol while their son Colie has some form of developmental disorder possibly brought on by his father tying him to his cot when he was a toddler (honestly - you can't make this stuff up).

Rad is a war hero and he has his pride, as does Rose Scott's son and fellow GI, Reeve (Robert Hooks). They decide to defy Henry's plans by refusing to sell and working together to make their land more valuable. It's a decision which triggers of a chain of events that you just know will end tragically.

This is a film which drags on and on - seemingly endlessly - until you feel like bouncing your head off the walls just to make the pain stop. I'm quite partial to a Southern accent, mostly because of that slow way the men have of saying "ma'am," which, for some reason, makes me yearn for a mint julep (and I'm not even really sure what a mint julep is), but the effect here is like being trapped in a box full of Scarlett O'Hara clones.

Hurry Sundown poster

But it's not just the accents. The two poor-but-proud families are so earnest, noble and likeable and the massed ranks of white oppression are so evil - or in the case of the Sheriff (George Kennedy), stupid - that it's insulting. Only Burgess Meredith, here essaying an unreconstructed bigoted local judge, actually bothers to act, rather than just play up to the streeotype.

Much more offensive, though, is the condescending treatment of the black community represented in the film. From impossibly glamorous schoolteacher Diahann Carroll - last seen slugging it out with Joan Collins on Dynasty - right on down to the smallest child, it could hardly have been worse without everyone adding "massa" to the end of sentences.

A total waste of a truly staggering collection of talent.

Trivia

The song, Hurry Sundown, was recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary, but in the film is sung by (apparently) the entire black community. The overall score is by King of Lounge, Hugo Montenegro.

It's footage from Hurry Sundown which is featured in Goldmember.


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