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Sunset (1988)

If memory serves, director Blake Edwards tale of real life characters in the early days of Hollywood took a pounding from critics at the time of it’s release. I’m not really sure why as it’s not half as bad as Leonard Maltin’s guide portrays it to be. No classic I grant you but not every film from Blake is going to be another Peter Sellers masterpiece.

Thankfully James Garner is on board to play an aging Wyatt Earp arriving in Hollywood during the silent era. He’s been hired by studio head Malcolm McDowell to serve as an on location advisor for the studios next big production featuring silent cowboy star Tom Mix. It’s Bruce Willis donning the fancy cowboy duds as the real life Mix. He’s to portray Wyatt in a restaging of the famed story featuring the Earp’s and the Clanton’s feud climaxing in the Gunfight at the O.K. Coral. Garner as Earp is to guide Willis/Mix thru the role lending authenticity to the film.

garner_sunset_2980741c

While in town Garner renews the acquaintance of a past lover who happens to be Malcolm’s wife. Malcolm isn’t exactly a docile hubby and wants answers. This leads to some of the film’s best scenes when Malcolm sends the studio’s watch dog M. Emmet Walsh to grill Garner about a few things. Garner’s tough Marshall act comes out winningly as he puts Walsh in his place and later on Richard Bradford as well.

It’s while visiting a brothel run by Mariel Hemingway that caters to the high class that the boys stumble into a murder scene triggering the plot and setting the stage for a mystery to solve. A real life cowbow legend joining forces with one of the make believe variety are out to clear the name of the intended fall guy Dermot Mulroney and follow the trail to …….

SUNSET, from left: Malcolm McDowell, James Garner as Wyatt Earp, 1988, © TriStar

Come now, did you not read the above names in the cast. Might I ask which one has made a living playing evil doers over the last forty plus years and continues to do so on occasion?

This is a glossy film with plenty of classic set pieces from cars to swank ballrooms and ladies decked out in 1920’s attire. It should come as no surprise that James Garner comes off best with his laid back approach and tough talking exterior. His run ins with Walsh highlight the film. It should be noted that Garner had already played Wyatt Earp in Sturges’ 1967 western Hour of the Gun.

willis in sunset

Willis was more the new guy on the block here and his bigger than life attitude works for me as a star of the silent screen era. It’s poor Mariel Hemingway that comes off rather dull. I don’t think it helps that the film has a beautiful woman such as she dressed in a very unflattering set of men’s duds when the twenties had a great flare for women’s fashions.

Malcolm plays it nasty and mean while mugging for the camera. A totally unlikable character. Perhaps the critics of the day didn’t like the fact that  he’s playing a very Charlie Chaplin styled character. Here he is running a studio but had achieved his greatest fame on the silent screen as The Happy Hobo. Maybe it’s an intended cheap shot at Chaplin by Edwards. Who knows.

james-garner-sunset

Far from Blake’s best film but not nearly as bad as the film books would have you believing from my vantage point. Film buffs are intrigued when it comes to movies about movies. Liberties have been taken and it’s a whole lot of B.S. but so was Shadow of the Vampire and that flick hit a home run with it’s delicious tale of Murnau’s production of Nosferatu.

Thus proving they can’t all be winners, Blake.

5 Comments »

  1. I’ve always quite like this one. I’d no idea the critics slammed it.

    BTW, never pay too much mind to Maltin’s guide. I imagine he watches just a tiny percentage himself, either getting interns to do the rest or using other people’s reviews (or a combination thereof?). There are so many dodgy assessments there that it’s just not funny. Often even the three-line plot summary is wonky.

    • I agree about the Maltin reviews. Still years ago it was at least a useful item to have handy before the days of the internet. I just wish it wasn’t so much of a rating book as opposed to a dictionary.
      AS for Sunset, it did get slammed and according to IMDB was a Razzie award winner for direction.
      I don’t mind it and like the cast. Garner sparring with Walsh and Bradford worth the admission.

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