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Film / The Sundowners

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The Sundowners is a 1960 film directed by Fred Zinnemann, starring Deborah Kerr and Robert Mitchum. It was adapted from a 1952 novel of the same name by Australian writer Jon Cleary.

Paddy Carmody (Mitchum) is a drover in 1920s Australia. Paddy, his wife Ida (Kerr), and their teenaged son Sean live the lives of itinerant wanderers, moving flocks of sheep around Australia for pay, living out of a tent. Paddy strongly prefers the nomadic life, having a mortal terror of being tied down to one place and burdened by a mortgage. Ida, however, has grown weary of life as a drover, wanting nice clothes and a kitchen of her own instead of cooking over camp fires.

Shot on location in the Australian countryside and famous Outback.


  • And the Adventure Continues: Just when it seems that the Carmodys can buy their farm after all that struggle, a challenge to the result of the horse race results in them losing their prize. They resolve to continue on and eventually save enough for a farm. The film ends.
  • Big Game: A horse race that, if Sean and The Sundowner win, will earn the family enough money to make a down payment on a farm.
  • Buxom Beauty Standard: Paddy takes an appreciative glance at Ida as she's undressing and says "You're built the way a woman ought to be built." He then compares her favorably to all the "sheilas" in town who are unattractively skinny.
  • The Film of the Book: Based on Jon Cleary's novel The Sundowners.
  • Footsie Under the Table: Apparently going on with Kylie, the teen daughter of a family who hosts the Carmodys, and Sean. Kylie casts Sean some very intent glances at dinner. Something is happening under that table, as indicated by her movements and his. Then Sean hurriedly asks to be excused.
  • The Lancer: Rupert (Peter Ustinov) becomes this for the rest of the movie after accepting Paddy's offer of a job.
  • The Magic Poker Equation: OK, fine, it isn't poker. But the story would have us believe that Paddy guessed right at "two-up", a coin-flip game, nineteen times in a row.
  • Mars and Venus Gender Contrast: Seen in the central conflict between Paddy and Ida. Paddy is perfectly content to live the rootless, itinerant, unencumbered life of a drover, herding sheep and living in a wagon and tents. Ida signed off on this years ago but as she tells Paddy, she's changing, and she wants the comforts of domestic life. She talks specifically about having a real kitchen to cook in, and in one scene at a train station she gazes with naked envy at a woman on the train wearing makeup and fancy clothes.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: The little Carmody caravan trundling off into the distance as the film ends.
  • Scenery Porn: Shot on location in the Australian countryside and outback, unusual for a film of the era.
  • Shout-Out: A reference to Buster Keaton is the closest thing to a time reference we get.
  • Title Drop: Sean explains to Rupert that "sundowner" is Aussie slang for someone who makes their home where the sun sets, i.e., someone who has no fixed home.