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The Sundowners

The Sundowners(1960)


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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.