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Film / Sunset

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"They broke every rule, loved every woman, took every risk and solved the most shocking murder in the history of Beverly Hills. And it's all true. Give or take a lie or two."

Sunset is a 1988 comedic mystery thriller written and directed by Blake Edwards, starring Bruce Willis as legendary Western movie actor Tom Mix and James Garner as legendary lawman Wyatt Earp (a role he'd previously played in John Sturges' 1967 film Hour of the Gun). The story is based on an unpublished novel by Rod Amateau, which was loosely based on fact as Earp actually did serve as technical adviser for some early silent Westerns.

The film is set in the Hollywood of the late 1920s, during the waning days of the industry's transition to sound film. Producer and studio head Alfie Alperin (Malcolm McDowell) wants to produce a great Western movie about Wyatt Earp. Tom Mix is cast as the great United States Marshal and the real Earp is on set as a technical adviser. But before the pair can start their movie adventure they are caught in a real case of murder, prostitution and corruption. Together they try to straighten out the problems of the missing son of Earp's former girlfriend Christina (Patricia Hodge). But now she is Alfie's wife—and he isn't amused by Earp's investigations. The fact that the young man's older sister is dating a notorious mobster and that all three were at the scene of a murder doesn't help. Soon Earp unveils the true sadistic character of Alfie, and after the death of Christina matters become personal.

Sunset contains examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Michael Alperin is a lush who beats up women when he is drunk.
  • And I'm the Queen of Sheba: Happens when Wyatt Earp introduces himself to Michael Alperin for the first time:
    Michael: Then I'm Billy the Kid! And this here's Calamity Jane!
    Wyatt: No, she's not. Martha Jane Canary was a dear and selfless woman but she looked like an unmade bed. This young lady is far too pretty.
  • Are You Sure You Can Drive This Thing?: Earp, Mix and Michael flee the Candy Store in a car to avoid the police raid, with Wyatt Earp behind the wheel. Noting Earp's very erratic driving, Tom Mix asks a few questions and discovers that Wyatt has never driven before.
  • Bad Boss: Studio head Alfie Alperin is a sadist who will inflict physical punishment on employees who have failed him.
  • Bait-and-Switch Gunshot: At the end of the fight on the pier, Alfie has seized the gun and drawn a bead on Tom Mix. There is a shot and, after a second, Alfie topples forward and Wyatt walks into sight, Peacemaker in hand.
  • Bar Brawl: Wyatt Earp watches a bar brawl being filmed for the Film Within a Film about his life, and then remarks to Mix that he had never been in a fight like that in his life.
  • Battle Butler: Alfie's chauffer Arthur doubles as his enforcer: being used to intimidate and rough up those Alfie finds annoying. Unfortunately for Arthur, over the course of the movie, he repeatedly attempts this on people who are much tougher than they look; like Wyatt Earp.
  • Brandishment Bluff: The shotgun that is a mop. Also Nancy is able to convince the two stuntmen who are looking to rough up Mix that Earp has a Peacemaker leveled at them under the table.
  • Butch Lesbian: Invoked, Cheryl admits to dressing as a man so that people will assume she's Candy's lover. Actually she's her daughter.
  • Catchphrase: Earp's "Give or take a lie or two."
  • The Coats Are Off: Victoria's houseman, who is the former Australian light heavyweight boxing champion, takes off his jacket before squaring off against Tom Mix.
  • Cool Car: Tom Mix owns several, including a huge Packard convertible with steer horns.
  • The Corpse Stops Here: This is how Michael is framed for the murder. Michael, who is already drunk, is drugged and sent into the cabin where Candy's body is tied up with an icepick in it. A few minutes later, an arranged police raid occurs.
  • Destination Defenestration: Tom Mix punches the Australian houseman through the closed French windows of Victoria's house. Being on the ground floor, this is not as fatal as this trope often is.
  • Diner Brawl: Two stuntmen are paid by Dibner to pick a fight with Mix in the El Coyote restaurant. Earp tricks them into looking under the table, which Cheryl then kicks into them. They try to retaliate but are quickly jumped by Mix's friends.
  • Dirty Cop: Captain Blackworth, a.k.a. "Dirty Bernie", who is on the payroll of gangster Dutch Kieffer.
  • The Dog Bites Back: At the end of the movie, Alperin's badly abused chauffeur Arthur is driving his boss to his yacht so he can make a getaway. After one insult too many, Arthur drives past the yacht and accelerates, driving off the end of the pier with him and Alperin still in the car.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Wyatt Earp, mostly because he doesn't know how to drive.
  • End of an Age: Both the Old West (already gone) and silent movies (soon to go).
  • Expecting Someone Taller: Tom Mix tells Wyatt Earp that he's not what he expected, being so cultured. Wyatt Earp replies that Tom's not what he expected either, he then ponders a moment before shrugging and resorting to this trope.
  • Fake Action Prologue: The film opens with a robbery and a runaway stagecoach. It turns out to be a movie that Tom Mix is shooting.
  • False Rape Accusation: Victoria has Mix arrested on false charges of rape and assault. The charges don't stick for very long, however.
  • Feet-First Introduction: Wyatt Earp first appears with his boots climbing down the steps at the rear of the train, far away from the hoopla happening at the other end.
  • Frying Pan of Doom: Cheryl hits Captain Blackworth in the face with a frying pan in the kitchen of the Kit Kat Club, breaking his nose and blackening his eyes.
  • Groin Attack: When Alperin's chauffeur Arthur attempts to crowd Earp, Earp responds by grabbing Arthur's junk and squeezing. Hard.
  • Gun Twirling: Tom Mix is seen doing this in the Film Within a Film. However, when he gets in a real gunfight at the ranch, he just draws and fires.
  • Hat Damage: During the shootout at Mix's ranch, Tom Mix has his hat shot off his head. Wyatt hands it back to him, sticking his finger in the bullet hole and commenting on what a difference a couple of inches would have made.
  • Historical Domain Character: Retired lawman Wyatt Earp and cowboy actor Tom Mix team up to solve a mystery in 1920s Hollywood.
  • Hood Hornament: Tom Mix drives a huge Packard convertible with steer horns mounted on the front. Mix actually had a car like this in Real Life.
  • Horrible Hollywood: Tom Mix himself is a decent fellow, but there is plenty of corruption and decadence.
  • Horseback Heroism: Tom Mix and Wyatt Earp are flying to Mix's ranch to rescue Tom's girlfriend Nancy from gangsters when engine trouble forces their plane down. Discovering they are only 15 miles from Mix's ranch, they borrow horses from a couple of friendly cowboys, and come charging to the rescue on horseback.
  • It's Personal: Once Christina is murdered, the case becomes this for Earp.
  • Juggle Fu: During the fight in Victoria's house, Mix is slammed against a set of shelves and a (presumably valuable) vase falls off. Mix catches it, then throws it towards the Australian houseman who is coming to punch him. The houseman is forced to abort his attack to catch it. The vase goes through several more tosses before being shattered when Mix punches through it to hit the houseman in the face.
  • Kung-Shui: Lampshaded since the scene is actually being shot in a film about Wyatt Earp, in the presence of Wyatt Earp himself who comments on how unrealistic it is.
  • Mistaken for an Imposter: Michael Alperin refuses to believe that Wyatt Earp is the real Wyatt Earp when Wyatt first introduces himself. (From the way he reacts, it's possible Michael thought Wyatt Earp was dead.) Leads to a funny And I'm the Queen of Sheba moment.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: Some critics felt like the trailers for this film played up comedic elements too much, when it's more of a mystery drama.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Alfie Alperin is very strongly based on Charlie Chaplin; the former became famous as "The Happy Hobo" (an Expy of Chaplin's "Little Tramp") and later moved to behind-the-camera work and became the head of a studio (Chaplin was a co-founder of United Artists). Of course, lawyers for the Chaplin estate probably would have something to say if the movie had Charlie Chaplin committing the acts that Alfie does, so this trope is unofficially enforced.
  • Percussive Prevention: Wyatt Earp knocks punches a drunk Michael Alperin the in the face and knocks him out to prevent him from climbing out of the car when they are trying to spirit him away from the crime scene. Later, Tom Mix dives into the marina to save a drowning Arthur. Arthur can't swim and is panicking, so Mix knocks him out with a crank handle so he can tow him to safety.
  • Phony Veteran: When Wyatt Earp first meets Tom Mix, Earp mentions the articles about Mix's service with the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War and asks why there were a lot of drawings but no photos. Mix embarrassedly admits that those stories were a product of the studio publicity machine and that he'd never served.
  • Pistol-Whipping: Wyatt Earp is knocked out by being rapped over the back of the head with a gun barrel while he is searching the Cadillac at the Kit Kat Club.
  • The Pratfall: Alfie Alperin was a slapstick comedian before becoming a producer, and stays in shape. At the first Academy Awards, he puts on a display of his old act, including a classic pratfall where he attempts to put both feet on a table despite not sitting on anything.
  • Retired Gunfighter: Wyatt Earp
  • The Roaring '20s: The movie is set in Hollywood during the heydays of the silent movies.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Michael is slipped a mickey at the Candy Store, leading him into a The Corpse Stops Here situation with Candy's body.
  • Stick 'em Up: A gang of thugs is bluffed into thinking a mop handle is actually a shotgun.
  • Stocking Filler: The Spanish dancer in El Coyote is wearing stockings and suspenders, that are shown off to great effect while she is dancing the tango with Tom Mix.
  • They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!: Chief Dibner calls Wyatt Earp 'Wyatt' and Wyatt responds:
    "And it's Mister Earp. Or Marshal. Or even just Earp. But not Wyatt. Not till I tell you."
  • Trapped in a Sinking Car: In a The Dog Bites Back moment, Alperin's badly abused chauffeur Arthur drives the car containing Alperin and himself off the pier and into the marina. Alperin manages to escape the car but Arthur can't swim and has to be saved from drowning by Tom Mix.
  • Twilight of the Old West: Earp is watching his life being mythologised while he is still alive.
  • U.S. Marshal: Earp; retired, of course.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Earp did live in Hollywood in the 1920s, did act as a technical advisor on several silent westerns, and was close friends with Tom Mix (who served as a pallbearer at Earp's funeral). The murder is very loosely based on the events surrounding the death of Thomas Ince (which did not involve Earp or Mix in any way).
    • In universe, Wyatt describes the film about his life as being "Just like it, give or take a lie or two." Variations of this phrase start being used by others about their own anecdotes.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Alfie Alperin is a clinical sadist who takes out his urges on any who attract his ire. His favourite targets include his wife and his sister. He eventually beats his wife to death, and it is implied that he permanently crippled his sister's leg.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Alfie Alperin roughs up his sister Victoria enough to leave convincing injuries so she can press charges of assault and rape against Tom Mix.