“Sundown Valley”

September 22, 2008

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

This film announces itself pretty quick.  Steve Denton is roping a horse on the range when he hears gunfire.  It’s Cannonball.  In a car.  He works for Steve’s old friend Gunsight Hawkins who came out of retirement after Pearl Harbor to make (you guessed it) gunsights for the mounted machine guns for World War II.

Is it starting to add up? Yep, this is a contemporary western set in 1944.  In fact, it’s the only film I’ve seen that is set later than 1880, other than “Cowboy Canteen” which was less a Charles Starrett vehicle than an excuse to string together a bunch of novelty acts and call it a movie.

Gunsight’s daughter has a government contract and a secret plant down at “the old Keller warehouse just this side of Canyon City.”  The problem is that production is down because of lack of workers.  So Steve calls a town meeting he calls a “Round-up for Victory.”

The meeting (and this movie) is a pitch for everyone to chip in and help the war effort.  Old Mum Johnson is the first to volunteer, “anything to beat the Axis.”

I kept hoping that Charley would end up fighting Nazi spies.  Instead, it’s Mr. Baxter.  He’s an opportunist who buys a share in the local saloon to cash in on the wages of the men working for the war effort.  He improves Honest Joe’s Friendly Club by adding gambling and a pay-check cashing service.

The filmmakers are so eager to find places to insert fight scenes into this conflict-free movie that they end up with two poorly motivated fistfights back to back, seperated by a location change and maybe 30 seconds.

The solution to this lack of conflict is to have Baxter and his boys target Steve because they are worried that he will disapprove of their improvements to the bar.

He does.  The drinking leads to “sick days” among the workers.  Charley shouts, “When you hurt Hodge Miller, you’re hurting Uncle Sam!”

Courtesy of Les Adams

Almost all of Steve’s dialogue sounds like it was written by the staff of Stars And Stripes.

“Uncle Sam needs those gunsights this week!”

“Let’s leave the fighting to the Army, fellas.”

“We’ve got to meet that deadline.  It’s our duty as citizens.”

“We better hit the trail for Uncle Sam.”

He also spends a lot of time with a pencil and paper working out schedules, making calls to Washington and announcements over the PA system.  Talk about drama.

The film features the requisite war-time montage of factory workers, assembly-line products, and calendar pages turning.

The solution to the villianous plans of Mr. Baxter?  Why, create a recreation center for the workers!  With ping-pong!  And activities like wagon rides!  Yawn.

In the nail-biting finale, a letter is read from the War Department.  The workers have been given some sort of productivity award.  And a flag.  And guess who signed the letter?  The Undersecretary of War himself!!!

I know Charley was just doing his duty, but c’mon, this one hurt.

(I would love to know where this one was shot.  It’s not any of the usual locations — there are beautiful snow-covered mountains in the background of many shots, most notably during the final horse-chase.)