Decision at Sundown
Cast & Crew
Noah Beery [jr.]
Bart Allison, a stony man bent on revenge, rides into the town of Sundown with his old friend Sam on the very day that the target of his ire, Tate Kimbrough, is to marry Lucy Summerton, the town belle. Kimbrough, the self-appointed king of Sundown, readies for his wedding while his long-time mistress, Ruby James, voices her feelings of rejection and betrayal. At the Livery Stables, Bart meets Dr. Storrow, the only man in town unafraid of Kimbrough and his flunkies, Sheriff Swede Hansen and Spanish, an unscrupulous killer. After strapping on his gun, Bart goes to the wedding, stopping along the way for a drink at the saloon. Ignoring the signs that announce all drinks are on Kimbrough, Bart tosses down some coins and orders a whiskey, but when Swede toasts Kimbrough, Bart sets his drink down. Angered, Swede tosses the coins into a spittoon, and Bart then hands him the spittoon and orders Swede to retrieve them. With tension filling the room, the crowd clears out to attend the wedding ceremony. Soon after, Morley Chase, a rancher who despises Kimbrough, rides into town with his men to witness the nuptials. As Doc escorts Ruby into the church, Bart enters and stands in the back. When the minister asks if anyone objects to the union, Bart speaks up and asks Kimbrough if he remembers Sabine Pass and a girl named Mary. As Kimbrough's men rush toward Bart, Bart warns Lucy that she will be a widow by sundown and then runs out of the church. Taking refuge in the stable with Sam, Bart barricades the doors as Swede and his thugs fire at them. Lucy, unsettled by the turn of events, throws down her bouquet and rides off in her carriage, after which Kimbrough orders Lucy's father Charles to bring her back. Directed by Kimbrough to kill Bart, Swede and his men surround the stable. When Spanish tries to climb in through a window, Sam gores his hand with a hay hook. Doc, who has returned to the stable to retrieve his medical bag, treats Spanish and then sends him back to Swede. After Spanish leaves, Doc tells Bart that Kimbrough has destroyed something he loved, the fortitude of the people of Sundown. When Doc asks who Mary is, Sam blurts out that she was Bart's wife, who was "stolen" by Kimbrough. Just as Kimbrough is berating Swede for failing to kill Bart, Charles returns and reports that Lucy will not go through with the ceremony until Bart leaves town. Kimbrough then sends Charles to the stable to tell Bart that he can ride out of town alive if he immediately leaves. When Bart rejects Kimbrough's proposal, Charles offers him money to leave, prompting Bart to accuse him of "selling" his daughter to Kimbrough. Later, when Sam asks Bart why he refrained from killing Kimbrough at the church, Bart replies that he felt Kimbrough deserved fair warning. As the wedding guests wait at the saloon, Kimbrough tries to convince Lucy to marry him. Experiencing second thoughts about the marriage, Lucy goes to the stable to talk to Bart. When Bart tells her that Kimbrough "stole" his wife, Lucy replies that no one can be stolen, and that Mary must have wanted to go with Kimbrough. After a furious Bart orders Lucy to leave, Sam tells him that Mary had been unfaithful many times before she met Kimbrough. Lashing out in anger, Bart slaps Sam and tells him to get out. Ravenously hungry, Sam walks out into the street in search of a meal, dropping his gun belt at the sheriff's orders. At a restaurant, Sam tells Doc that Mary, unable to face life mated to only one man, killed herself one week before Bart returned home from the war. Hoping to convince Bart to forget Mary and start a new life, Sam heads back to the stable but is shot in the back by Spanish before reaching his destination. With his dying words, Sam beseeches Doc to tell Bart that "Mary was no good." Outraged by Sam's murder, Doc tries to rouse the town folk from their moral torpor. When Doc, trying to rally the crowd to oppose Kimbrough, argues they must all take a stand for justice, Charles admits that Kimbrough robbed him of his self-respect. After Doc enlists Morley's help in assuring that Bart will be given a fair chance, Morley and his men disarm Swede's thugs. With the odds now evened, Bart emerges from the stable for a showdown with the sheriff. Bart outdraws Swede, but loses his balance and cuts his hand on a carriage wheel. While Doc bandages Bart's hand and pleads with him to give up his quest for vengeance, Ruby implores Kimbrough to leave town. Ignoring her pleas, Kimbrough straps on his gun belt and steps into the street. As the town watches, Bart appears, his gun hand bandaged, his gun now strapped to his left hip. As the two adversaries face off, Ruby fires her rifle, wounding Kimbrough in the shoulder, thus forestalling the gunfight. When Ruby declares that Bart "never really had a wife," and cannot revenge something that he never had, Doc agrees. Some time later, Ruby and Kimbrough, his arm in a sling, leave town for good. When Morley calls for a celebration, Bart, holding the town responsible for Sam's needless death, rides out of Sundown leading Sam's riderless horse.
Noah Beery [jr.]
H. M. Wynant
Harry Joe Brown
Charles Lang Jr.
Frank A. Tuttle
Decision at Sundown
Usually in these films, Randolph Scott plays a man bent on seeking revenge for his dead wife, and his character is often borderline psychotic and similar in manner to James Stewart's obsessive characters in the Anthony Mann westerns. Further, Boetticher tends to integrate his characters into the barren landscapes so fully that it's as if they are outgrowths of it.
Decision at Sundown is a little different. While it has an offbeat, edgy Randolph Scott character, it's not so interesting in the landscape department; instead it keeps all the characters mostly confined to a small town. There the action plays out in a more verbose way than is the norm in Boetticher's movies.
The opening is a dandy, as Scott might say. A disheveled, stubbly-faced Scott holds up a stagecoach from the inside, gets out, and is met by his partner (Noah Beery, Jr.). The two ride off to the town of Sundown, where, we learn, a man named Tate Kimbrough is to be married that afternoon. Scott has ridden in to kill him for having an affair with his wife years earlier, which led to the wife's suicide, and Scott announces his intention at the wedding itself. From there until almost the end of the movie, Scott and Beery hole themselves up in a stable, with the corrupt sheriff (Kimbrough's top henchman) too cowardly to smoke them out, and the townspeople too weak to stand up to Kimbrough and his men. In the meantime, it becomes clear that Scott's wife was not the saint Scott believes. The static situation of this story does arouse a certain amount of suspense by the end, as a big part of the movie's substance is whether or not the townspeople will find the courage to take action. In the end, Kimbrough's fiancée (Karen Steele) and mistress (Valerie French) figure prominently in an unusual twist.
Working without Burt Kennedy, his favorite screenwriter, Boetticher did what he could with this yarn, but the movie, decent as it is, just doesn't work quite as well as the others. Even Boetticher thought so. In an interview years later, he correctly said that the picture doesn't really revolve around Scott's character like in the other films: "It was the story of a town, the story of a lot of people," he said. Despite Boetticher's low opinion of Decision at Sundown, it was well received by some reviewers such as this notice from Variety: "Role is an offbeat one for Scott, but he carries off the gunman's frustrated rage well...this entry stacks up as one of the better of the new-fangled Westerns."
In his autobiography When in Disgrace, Boetticher wrote, "Decision at Sundown was the only Scott picture I have honestly considered - well - 'so-so.' My pal, [screenwriter] Charlie Lang, did the best he could with the story Columbia had bought. I didn't enjoy the sequence with Randy being drunk and, although we had a wonderful cast with John Carroll, Noah Beery, John Archer and Andrew Duggan, for me it was just another picture. But Karen was sensational! She looked like a million dollars; played the secondary part to perfection, and I really had her costumed to show off that unbelievable figure."
It should be noted that Boetticher never counted the turkey Westbound (1959) in his official list of Randolph Scott pictures; he made that film merely as a favor to Scott, who owed Warner Bros. a movie, and it has almost nothing in common with the others. As for Karen Steele, Boetticher had met her while preparing Decision at Sundown - and while he was also going through a divorce. Boetticher fell so hard for Steele that he put her in the cast in place of June Lockhart, whom he had previously decided on for the role.
Boetticher's affair with Steele would prove tempestuous, to say the least. Boetticher later recounted: "I guess it takes a young director a good while before he begins to understand that the girl he sees every evening up there on the screen is his version of what he wants from a woman. She's not for real. There you are, holding hands in the dark projection room with your leading lady, and simply adoring that gal in the film. Of course you are. You put her there! Everything she is doing up there is what you like... Well, brothers, grow up.... I ended up getting exactly what was coming to me - a bellyful of misery, absolutely ill about my family, and thoroughly disgusted and angry at my own stupidity. A motion picture director should only become involved with an actress in spite of her profession, not because of it."
After three years, the relationship ended, but by then, of course, so had Boetticher's marriage. Later he would marry and divorce Debra Paget before finally marrying Mary Chelde in a 1971 union that lasted 30 years, until his death.
As for Randolph Scott, he topped off his long Hollywood career with by far his best work in Budd Boetticher's films and his final feature, Ride the High Country (1962).
Producer: Harry Joe Brown, Randolph Scott
Director: Budd Boetticher
Screenplay: Charles Lang, Vernon L. Fluharty
Cinematography: Burnett Guffey
Film Editing: Al Clark
Art Direction: Robert Peterson
Music: Heinz Roemheld
Cast: Randolph Scott (Bart Allison), John Carroll (Tate Kimbrough), Karen Steele (Lucy Summerton), Valerie French (Ruby James), Noah Beery, Jr. (Sam), John Archer (Dr. John Storrow).
by Jeremy Arnold
Decision at Sundown
The Films of Budd Boetticher Box Set
Budd Boetticher first directed Randolph Scott on Seven Men From Now, a western made for John Wayne's production company, Batjac, written by first-time screenwriter Burt Kennedy. It was a lean script with sparing but rich dialogue and Boetticher's direction matched the writing. Scott was so impressed with the film and pleased with Boetticher's direction that he approached Boetticher to direct for his own Scott-Brown Productions. For their first production together, Scott acquired a property that screenwriter Burt Kennedy had developed for Batjac, an adaptation of Elmore Leonard's short story The Captives. " I had found the short story," Kennedy recalled in an interview. "Duke's company bought it and I was under contract and I wrote the script." It was a perfect match for Scott's persona and the film, renamed The Tall T, was the first of five films Boetticher directed for Scott and partner Harry Joe Brown.
Scott stars as struggling rancher Pat Brennan, a likable fellow in the wrong place at the wrong time, and Richard Boone is his villain counterpart Frank Usher, the charismatic and ruthlessly charming leader of a small gang of homicidal punks who hijack the stage that has picked up the laconic cowboy. It's supposed to be a shipment of silver but instead they find aging newlywed Doretta Mims (Maureen O'Sullivan), the "homely" heir to a mining fortune, and her conniving, cowardly husband John Hubbard, who sells her out to save his own skin. The heist turns into a kidnapping, but Usher unexpectedly lets the unnecessary Brennan live. He likes Brennan; he's a man in contract to his gang members, who are merely boys (and stunted, shallow ones at that), a realist not afraid to admit he's scared yet never showing it in his face, and the one person in Usher's (admittedly limited) social circle he can confide in.
The rest of the picture is a tight character drama of shifting relationships as Brennan uses his wiles and wits to isolate and kill the individual gang members, who have already murdered the stage driver (Arthur Hunnicutt in a small but memorable role) and a stagecoach station manager and his young son. Usher is the greatest of the charming antagonists that Boetticher and Kennedy love so much and Boone is brilliant in the role: quiet in his command, both alert and relaxed, ready to jerk to attention. He expertly, pitilessly runs the show, and his easy body language couldn't be more different from the stiff, self-conscious carriage of Scott, or from the insolent, lazy lean of the punk gunman Henry Silva. The language is equally defining. Scott, true to form, gets all the arch clichés in tough, terse bites and he delivers them in his usual flat tenor, but the two illiterate gunmen played by Silva and Skip Homeier speak in a kind of frontier poetry of simple words and offbeat grammar that communicates immaturity, lack of education, and petty yet impassioned dreams with an unexpected sensitivity. Violent as they are, these boys are full of life and feeling. But they live a violent lifestyle that catches up with them. The violence of The Tall T is not explicit but it is brutal and a little grotesque. There's nothing neat or gentle about dying in this cycle of films.
Shot on location in Lone Pine, a popular location for western productions a few hours north of Los Angeles, it was a low budget production shot on an 18-day schedule. Boetticher shot it sparingly, so that there was only one way to put the film together, a lesson he learned from directing in the studio assembly-line at Universal. "It was cut on the set," he described in a 1989 interview. "(The editor) couldn't eliminate anything because there wasn't anything to eliminate. He just pieced the thing together. And that was the movie." One of the film's most memorable moments was originally an accident that Boetticher incorporated into the film. Scott steps out of the shack in the morning and whacks his head on the low-hanging roof jutting over the doorway, prompting Usher to burst out laughing. "That's the kind of thing that you do," explained Boetticher in an interview. "All the funny stuff, that's not in the script." It also marks one of the defining moments of Scott's character, who is stoic but definitely vulnerable and decidedly human.
Burt Kennedy was still under contract to Batjac so Charles Lang wrote the next couple of films in the Boetticher and Scott collaboration. Decision at Sundown, based on a story by Vernon L. Fluharty, leaves the desert for a town setting, where a bitter Scott arrives to kill the man who ran off with his wife. It's an odd and intriguing little picture and Scott makes one of his most memorable entrances he holds up a coach from the inside, then steps off to let it go its own way but neither Boetticher nor Scott are in their element in the culture of the town setting. In Buchanan Rides Alone, Scott switches from grim to affable and easy-going as a momentarily wealthy cowboy (Scott) who wanders into the corrupt bordertown of Agryville and runs afoul of the amoral, backstabbing Agry family that runs the town. It's a genuine black comedy with a thoroughly mercenary cast of characters who keep double-crossing one another as they scheme to steal Scott's hard-earned money and the ransom charged for a Mexican prisoner, the son of a wealthy rancher across the border. Boetticher was dissatisfied with Lang's script and called Kennedy for an uncredited rewrite, keeping him on the set for the whole shoot as they ad-libbed the production, which was shot in Arizona to capture the parched desert landscape of the Mexican-American border region.
Boetticher became a producer for his last two films for Scott (the production banner was changed from Scott-Brown to Ranown) and Kennedy, whose contract at Batjac had expired, wrote magnificent original scripts that echoed the strengths of Seven Men From Now. Ride Lonesome and Comanche Station are a pair of films with almost identical plots but essential, elegant differences. Scott plays self-imposed outcasts with a past and a mission, and his journeys becomes wound up with a woman he saves/escorts and a collection of mercenary outlaws who invite themselves along as riding companions and competitors: both after the same thing and neither ready to back down. Yet these men that would see each other dead will save each other's lives before the final showdown.
In Ride Lonesome, the men are Boone and Wid (Pernell Roberts and James Coburn, in his film debut), outlaws who want to start fresh. Bringing in wanted man Billy John (James Best at his punk kid best) will give them amnesty, but Scott's driven bounty hunter Brigade has already captured him and he's on a mission of vengeance against Billy John's ruthless criminal brother (Lee Van Cleef, who brings an oily charm to the role). In Comanche Station, Scott's nemesis is Ben Lane (Claude Akins), a smiling snake of a outlaw who wants the reward that Scott's Jefferson Cody is due for rescuing a white woman (Nancy Gates) from Indian captivity.
Ride Lonesome became Boetticher's first widescreen production and he settled into the CinemaScope format by shooting longer takes, often shooting complete traveling scenes in one long take using a dolly car. The films, shot in Boetticher's defining landscape of Lone Pine, chronicle long journeys, with pauses and stops along the way, which begin and end in the wilderness, and again the terrain is used to dramatic effect. Scott makes his entrance into each film walking through a sheer crevice, hemmed in by walls of rock on either side, and this barren image is the defining state of his world: barren deserts, rugged plains where the rocks jut out of the Earth instead of trees, and featureless valleys, all ringed by distant mountains that are as much fences as borders, trapping them in a domain far from civilization. Even when the films leaves the sun-parched desert for the green coolness of the forest, it's merely an oasis in the self-inflicted purgatory. Boetticher carefully paces the rhythm of landscape his parties travel through, which served the crew as well as the film; a stop-off in a shady grove or by a cool river was good for company morale during the shoot.
"A man needs a reason to ride this country. You gotta reason?" invariably Scott asks the men he meets in the nowhereland of the desert. More than a valid query, it's a telling one. These characters are driven by the past and can't stop talking of the future, but the films are viscerally in the moment, in the now, as if neither past nor future exist. When all is said and done, these final films are American frontier odysseys with tragic dimensions and Scott is like a mythic figure doomed to wander the deserts for eternity in his obsessive quests.
The films were very financially successful and largely ignored by critics at the time for the very elements that make them so great. These low budgets films are modest productions, unpretentious westerns pared down to their essentials, lean stories about men on the frontier living a life in a dangerous, inhospitable world. Years later these tight, taut, often savage little pictures were reassessed and recognized as classics of the genre. The five films were branded "the Ranown Cycle," which is technically incorrect but serves its purpose just fine, and the name has a certain frontier color to it.
All five films have been beautifully restored and remastered for DVD. The images are sharp and the color vivid. The film grain is evident in the darker scenes, which is appropriate and part of the film's texture. The earlier three films, which have been shown on TV in full-screen editions (when shown at all), have been mastered in their proper theatrical aspect ratio (adjusted to the 16x9 format of widescreen TVs). The CinemaScope films are beautifully mastered in the correct widescreen format and correct years of bad pan-&-scan TV prints.
Among the film's fans and supporters are Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood, both of whom are involved in the DVD release. Martin Scorsese provides a marvelous video introduction to The Tall T (and, by extension, the entire series) and Ride Lonesome with a mixture of historical perspective and cinephile love of the films, but beware that he does include "spoilers." His introductions (and everyone else's) should probably be seen after the films. Clint Eastwood introduces Comanche Station, but an even greater contribution is the documentary Budd Boetticher: A Man Can Do That, a feature-length portrait of the director and his life and career produced by Eastwood and directed by Bruce Ricker. Ed Harris narrates the production, originally made for and shown on Turner Classic Movies, it's an excellent overview with rare interview footage with the director, who had died before the documentary was made. The documentary is on the first disc with The Tall T, accessed through the "Special Features" (a minor design flaw on the rather basic menus). Taylor Hackford provides the introductions to Decision at Sundown and Buchanan Rides Alone with more enthusiasm than insight and provides commentary on Comanche Station. More informative commentary tracks are offered by film historians Jeanine Basinger on The Tall T and Jeremy Arnold on Ride Lonesome. These film professors have a relaxed approach to their talks and provide both historical background and critical observations. The set is not lavish, but the supplements and the transfers are excellent. This is the presentation that these films deserve: lean, respectful, rich with information.
For more information about The Films of Budd Boetticher, visit Sony Pictures.To order The Films of Budd Boetticher, go to TCM Shopping.
by Sean Axmaker
The Films of Budd Boetticher Box Set
TCM Remembers - Budd Boetticher
When director Budd Boetticher died on November 29th, American film lost another master. Though not a household name, Boetticher made crisp, tightly wound movies with more substance and emotional depth than was apparent at first glance. Instead of a flashy style, Boetticher preferred one imaginatively simple and almost elegant at times. Because of this approach films like The Tall T (1957), Decision at Sundown (1957), The Bullfighter and the Lady (1951) and Ride Lonesome (1960) have withstood the test of time while more blatantly ambitious films now seem like period pieces.
Budd was born Oscar Boetticher in Chicago on July 29th, 1916. With a father who sold hardware, Boetticher didn't come from a particularly artistic background. In college he boxed and played football before graduating and heading to Mexico to follow what's surely one of the most unusual ways to enter the film industry: as a professional matador. That's what led an old friend to get Boetticher hired as a bullfighting advisor on the 1941 version of Blood and Sand. Boetticher quickly took other small jobs in Hollywood before becoming an assistant director for films like Cover Girl. In 1944, he directed his first film, the Boston Blackie entry One Mysterious Night. Boetticher made a series of other B-movies, like the underrated film noir Behind Locked Doors (1948), through the rest of the decade.
Boetticher really hit his stride in the 50s when he began to get higher profile assignments, including the semi-autobiographical The Bullfighter and the Lady in 1951 which resulted in Boetticher's only Oscar nomination, for Best Writing. Sam Peckinpah later said he saw the film ten times. Other highlights of this period include Seminole (1953) (one of the first Hollywood films sympathetic to American Indians), the stylishly tight thriller The Killer Is Loose (1956) and the minor classic Horizons West (1952). In the late 50s, Boetticher also started directing TV episodes of series like Maverick and 77 Sunset Strip.
In 1956, Boetticher started a string of films that really established his reputation. These six Westerns starring Randolph Scott are known as the Ranown films after the production company named after Randolph Scott and producer Harry Joe Brown. Actually the first, Seven Men from Now (1956), was produced by a different company but all of them fit together, pushing the idea of the lone cowboy seeking revenge into new territory. The sharp Decision at Sundown twists Western cliche into one of the bleakest endings to slip through the Hollywood gates. The Tall T examines the genre's violent tendencies while Ride Lonesome and Buchanan Rides Alone (1958) have titles appropriate to their Beckett-like stories. The final film, Comanche Station, appeared in 1960.
That was the same year Boetticher made one of the best gangster films, The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond, before watching everything fall apart. He and his wife decided to make a documentary about the famous matador Carlos Arruza and headed to Mexico. There Boetticher saw Arruza and much of the film crew die in an accident, almost died himself from an illness, separated from and divorced his wife (Debra Paget), and then spent time in various jails and even briefly a mental institution. This harrowing experience left him bankrupt but he still managed to complete the film, Arruza (1968), which gathered acclaim from the few who've been able to see it.
Boetticher managed to make just one more film, My Kingdom For... (1985), a self-reflexive documentary about raising Andalusian horses. He also made a cameo appearance in the Mel Gibson-Kurt Russell suspense thriller, Tequila Sunrise (1988). He died from complications from surgery at the age of 85.
By Lang Thompson
TCM Remembers - Budd Boetticher
Is he a big man in Sundown?- Bart Allison
The biggest. He's got that town in his fist and he's squeezin' it hard. Ain't heard folks complain much. Guess they're all scared.- Sam
I'm glad to hear he's doing so well. When a man's riding high, the ground comes up and hits him a lot harder when he falls.- Bart Allison
Although onscreen credits read "based on a story by Vernon L. Fluharty," the film was actually based on a novel by Michael Carder, who used the pseudonym Vernon L. Fluharty.
Released in United States Fall November 1957
Released in United States Fall November 1957