(On Cable TV, February 2019) There is a weightiness to The Sundowners that makes it both respectable and a burden to watch. The story of a nomadic family trying to make ends meet in outback Australia, it’s a character study (adapted from a novel) of a man unwilling to settle down, something that his wife finds increasingly untenable. Robert Mitchum stars in a very manly role, with Deborah Kerr as his long-suffering wife—despite the mostly happy marriage banter between the two, much of the film’s central conflict is about whether or not they’ll be able to reach an accommodation, and the ending is far less definite than many would have wanted. But the real reason to watch the film may have less to do with plotting and more with the impressive colour cinematography—unusually enough for 1960, much of the film was shot on location in deep Australia, featuring plenty of koalas, kangaroos, sheep and sheep-shearing. Peter Ustinov makes an impression as a refined older man somehow found in the outback. It’s a solid drama that was eventually nominated for five Academy Awards (including Best Picture), but don’t expect much in terms of resolution.
(On Cable TV, April 2018) I have dim memories of watching Quo Vadis as a kid (especially the last shot of the film) but watching it now is more an exercise in historical Hollywood than an enjoyable viewing in itself. Historically, Quo Vadis was the first big success of an era in film history where Hollywood headed to Rome in order to film epic movies on a smaller budget. You can see the result on-screen with a lavish production with countless costumes, credible historical re-creations and an ambitious Bible-related subject matter palatable to international audiences. Quo Vadis is a deep dive in Roman history in the decades when Rome fought the newly popular Christianity. It’s not particularly historically accurate, but it does revel in the imaginary imagery of the era, combining swords and sandals and political/religious conflict alongside a big dash of family melodrama. It’s tedious and impressive at once, especially when you try to keep up with the very large cast and equally long running time. It does help that the film features actors such as Robert Taylor and Peter Ustinov, alongside captivating actresses such as Deborah Kerr and Marina Berti. A long list of notables had small roles among the cast and crew, but the film’s biggest impact was financial, both in terms of revenues (it reportedly saved MGM from bankruptcy) and legacy (it paved the way for very similar epics). It’s not quite as good as many of the films it would spawn, though: the highlights are few and far between, while the film’s connection to the bible is tenuous at best. It does make for an impatient viewing experience—well-known but not particularly enjoyable, Quo Vadis is a bit of an imposed viewing … unless you like that kind of thing, of course.