“Man From Sundown”

October 14, 2008

At this point, you’d think I’d know better.  After viewing nearly 110 of Charles Starrett’s films in the last seven months, you’d think I’d have learned that the title has nothing to do with the film.  They were named after they were shot, often by some lowly staffer in New York, 3000 miles away from the action.

And yet, I’ve really been looking forward to this film.  Why?  Because “The Man From Sundown” sounds so cool!

Courtesy of Les Adams

“Hello Larry!” is how they greet Charles in this 1939 film.  That’s right – this is one of his rare appearances as a character named something other than Steve.  A study should be done on the effects of playing a non-Steve on Charles’ performance.  Maybe someday when I’m old and gray…

Larry Whalen has been called back to Texas Rangers Headquarters, Sundown Division.  There’s a new gang of robbers in town, and they don’t leave any witnesses.  This last fact drives the action in this film.

Iris Meredith’s brother Tom witnesses a bank robbery and wings one of the bandits. Tom’s life is in danger until he can testify.  Charles will protect him because he’s a Ranger, and because he’s sweet on Iris.

Director Sam Nelson makes little use of background music.  Instead, he relies on natural sounds to create the soundtrack.  There’s a nearly silent bank robbery.  Horsehoofs clattering is the only accompanying sound as the posse chases the outlaws, or a lone rider goes for help.

There’s also a nice attention to the spaces between the actions.  People waiting for something to happen, finding their seats in a courtroom or returning to the bar after a fight.  All this adds a touch of authenticity and honesty to the film.  It helps balance the often contrived plot-turns.

For most of this film, Charles is less intense and driven than we may be used to seeing him.  He’s a bit happy go lucky, swinging his lariat along to the Sons of the Pioneers tune.

That all changes after the (groan) courtroom scene. This is mercifully cut short when Tom is assasignated by the gang.  Now the story takes an abrupt left turn, as Larry goes undercover in Cherokee Territory to join the gang.

We know what this means — off comes the black shirt and white hat.  On goes the checkered shirt and black hat, along with a good layer of dirt and stubble.  It’s always fun when Charles goes undercover.  He gets to be mean, shout stuff like “I don’t like his face” and “keep your mouth shut or I’ll shut it for you.”  He gambles and drinks.  He even has an alias, get this, “The Cheyenne Kid.”

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

If anyone ever tells you that Charles Starrett couldn’t throw a punch, they are full of hooey!  And this film offers a couple of good examples of Charles clearly doing his own stunts.

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

As we seem to be moving along towards a satisfactory climax, there is a weird time-out for a horse race between Iris and the bad guy.  it’s hard to tell if this is part of Charles’ plan.  Regardless, a nice wagon chase ensues.

Charles fans his gun alot in this film.  I don’t know why he quit doing that.  It’s cool.

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2 Responses to ““Man From Sundown””

  1. Peter Valenti said

    I just learned that the uncle of a friend of mine directed many Tim McCoy & then Starrett westerns at Columbia. He bequeathed his nephew a scrapbook of this period–I’ll report further after I have had a look.

  2. Mike Newton said

    The titles of Charles Starrett’s westerns, particular those of the Thirties, all had one thing in common. They made reference to a geographical location in the West. South of Arizona, Old Wyoming Trail, North of the Yukon. Starrett himself referred to it as “Boxing the Compass.” Actually the titles were put on after the film was shot. At the time, it only had a production number. Distributors sold the package in advance to the theater exhibitors as “6 Charles Starretts.” Starrett said a contest was held among the scenerario typists as to the best title with the prize being $l5. That’s how his horse Raider was named. Starrett wanted to call his horse Yucca after the desert plant, but the producers turned it down. They said that the kids wouldn’t know what it meant. Starrett reportedly rode 33 horses in his 17 year career. The name Raider came along in the late Forties. It was used in the DK comic books but Starrett himself only used it occasionally. In one film, both Raider and Bullet (Steve’s horse) are given screen credit.

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