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!
“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.”
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.
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.