Monday, April 15, 2024

‘Hurry Sundown’ a Hokey Race Melodrama 1967


Jane Fonda & Michael Caine as a not-so-happy couple in 1967's "Hurry Sundown."

Otto Preminger's notorious race drama Hurry Sundown was badly reviewed and a box office underperformer back in 1967, but it has a few redeeming qualities. The classic set up in a small town melodrama is where the poor have something that the rich want, and dramatic fireworks ensue. In Hurry Sundown, it’s land, Katie Scarlett! Sadly, the dynamite explosions overshadow the dramatic variety.

Hollywood started to address race issues in the mid-60s. But for every "In the Heat
of the Night," there were clinkers like 1967's "Hurry Sundown."

Michael Caine nearly disguises his famed Cockney accent to play southern schemer Henry Warren, who marries land-rich Julie (Jane Fonda) to try to build a new empire with wealthy developers. They have a combustible marriage, since Caine's hubby a total heel, and Fonda's southern belle is frustrated, natch. They also have a small son with issues, caused by Caine’s Henry. The boy vents his dysfunction by wailing like a set off car alarm. It's all very fake: Caine doesn't sound Cockney, nor does he sound southern; Jane's accent disappears early on, and goes back to her distinctive finishing school voice; and the boy's wails are so obviously dubbed it inspires hilarity instead of heartache.

Rich cousin Henry (Michael Caine) picks up poor cousin Rad (John Phillip Law),
just back from the war. Rad isn't fooled by his gesture, in 1967's "Hurry Sundown."
Faye Dunaway in her first film, as Lou, wife of soldier/farmer Rad,
in 1967's "Hurry Sundown."

Then there are the poor white farmers, one of two parcels that Caine’s conniver wants. They are played by Faye Dunaway and John Phillip Law, as Lou and Rad McDowell. Faye's been holding down the farm, and Law has just come back from WWII. This was Dunaway's first film and one of the few times that Faye went totally no-glam as the farmer's wife. She's also quite toned down in her performance as well. And while Law was not the most expressive actor, he's solid enough, and looks great in his coveralls! 

Michael Caine's Henry Warren wants both Robert Hooks & John Phillip Law's
 property in 1967's "Hurry Sundown." Thankfully, Caine's not wearing coveralls!
Faye Dunaway & John Phillip Law as the most photogenic farm couple ever,
in 1967's "Hurry Sundown."

The third group is the black family. Beah Richards plays Fonda's mammy, Rose Scott, who claims to own the parcel that Fonda says was just loaned to her. Robert Hooks is her son, Reeve, who's willing to stand up to rich white Caine. And Diahann Carroll is Vivian Thurlow, a school teacher that Hooks is sweet on.

Rose Scott (Beah Richards) wants to keep what's rightfully hers in "Hurry Sundown."

The beginning of the film opens with dynamite explosions, blowing up land to be developed into a canning factory. And the end of the film closes with the same, but for different reasons. The booming Hugh Montenegro score makes you think you're in for a spaghetti western, instead of a southern fried melodrama.

Michael Caine's cad is more interested in feeling Jane Fonda up than her '60s up-do
in the '40s-set "Hurry Sundown."

The movie is set post-WWII, but it's hard to tell, since typical of the movie era, there is only lip service paid to period authenticity. Much like the same year's southern melodrama, Reflections in a Golden Eye, you have token period details, but starring leading ladies with towering '60s hairdos, makeup, and clothes. Critics zeroed in on howlers that come mainly from the bad script and supporting ham actors. The leads, while hemmed in by stereotypes, are quite good.

Michael Caine as Henry Warren with his sax; Jane Fonda as wife Julie with her bottle.
 The notorious sax for sex scene from 1967's "Hurry Sundown."

Michael Caine, with slicked back hair and pinstripe suits, looks like a very pale lounge lizard as the heartless hubby. It's hard to imagine why Jane Fonda's Julie has the non-stop hots for him. While Fonda's accent is quickly gone with the wind, her acting is actually solid. Except for the camp classic moment where the southern minx plays her hubby's saxophone between his legs to turn him on! That Jane could make the scenes of Julie torn, between her frustrated spouse and screaming son, at all believable is a tribute to her innate acting ability.

Jane Fonda as Julie, the southern belle who can be bad, but is ultimately good,
in 1967's "Hurry Sundown."

Dunaway is quite natural in her first film, and without any of her '60s glam that was soon her trademark. Faye actually looks like a work-worn farm woman. She and Law's intimate moments are sweet, though Law is no Henry Fonda, as the poor man's voice of the people.

Madeleine Sherwood & Burgess Meredith are the southern couple from Hell in 1967's
 "Hurry, Sundown." That's Frank Converse in the middle, in an early role.

Beah Richards is fine as the mammy until she has a heart attack that makes her seem possessed. Robert Hooks is solid as the firebrand son. And Carroll is no-nonsense as the teacher who's lived up north, but back home, a bit like Pinky. The scene between Carroll and Fonda in the white women's only bathroom is surprisingly strong.

Diahann Carroll as a schoolteacher who's lived up north and deals with bigots
like Burgess Meredith's judge accordingly. From 1967's "Hurry Sundown."

What brings Hurry Sundown truly down is veteran hams Burgess Meredith as racist Judge Purcell and George Kennedy as good ole boy, Sheriff Coombs. The characters are written and performed as ridiculous stereotypes in the broadest of strokes. Madeleine Sherwood as Eula Purcell offers an over the top version of Sister Woman from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Jim Backus is quirky as the defense lawyer Carter Sillens and Robert Reed is smarmy as the prosecutor Lars Finchley. Frank Converse is decent in an early role as Fonda’s Reverend cousin, as is Rex Ingram as Professor Thurslow.

Those southern bigots sure liked their flowers! Burgess Meredith as the judge in 1967's
 "Hurry Sundown." Think Larry Gates in the same year's "In the Heat of the Night."

The plot motions of Hurry Sundown are so cartoonish, that it inspires amusement instead of drama. At least you can accept Hurry Sundown as a guilty pleasure, unlike the previous year’s pretentious southern potboiler, The Chase.

My look @ Jane Fonda's previous all-star southern melodrama, 1966's: The Chase

Jane Fonda's spoiled southern belle & Diahann Carroll's intense schoolteacher
have surprisingly strong scene together in 1967's "Hurry Sundown."

At two and a half hours, Hurry Sundown may seem long, but moves at a decent clip. The K.B. Gilden novel was over a 1,000 pages, which director Preminger thought would be the ‘60s Gone with the Wind.

Robert Hooks is a local farmer & Diahann Carroll is a schoolteacher who's lived
up north and don't quite see eye to eye in 1967's "Hurry Sundown."

Otto Preminger, who was never afraid to take on controversy, was always hit and miss in the latter half of his career. This heavy-handed Hurry Sundown is definitely a miss! 

"Ah-ll just scream if Ah have to hear his non-existent Southern accent ah-gin!"



  1. Faye Dunaway and John Phillip Law were indeed a handsome farm couple, as you say, but let's not forget Sissy Spacek and Mel Gibson in 1984's The River. (Which might be a good movie to review, along with the spate of farm movies in the early '80. Jessica Lange in Country, Sally Field in several others. The column almost writes itself.)

    Getting back to Hurry, Sundown, I remember when Madeleine Sherwood laments that none of "the quality folk" or "the quality people" will be going to her daughter's wedding. My parents grew up in the South and said that anyone who uses those terms probably isn't quality themselves.

    1. Agreed, the year of the "save the farm" movies, Sissy and Mel, and Jessica and Sam Shepard! But to me, Faye and John P Law looked like fashion models! I agree with your parents--when anybody has to declare themselves good or quality, they're usually not! Cheers, Rick

  2. Thanks for a great review of a movie I thoroughly enjoy. It’s trashy, kind of stupid, overlong—but for me, it works! Amazing cast—and the locations give it a (somewhat) authentic feel. I think this is one of Jane’s very best performances of the 60s—she does a grand job as the codependent wife. And the first time I saw this film (on TV), I almost couldn’t believe the “sax scene”! Faye is very good, too. Apparently, she was miserable during the filming, and she hated Preminger. (And he wasn’t crazy about her, either!) But her performance is solid.The male actors don’t fare as well, but Caine gets an “A” for effort. Thanks again for spotlighting this much-derided flick—and for acknowledging that, despite its many faults, it’s not completely terrible!!

    1. Hi, thanks for the comments. And can you imagine Faye and Otto being bound together by a contract? The mind reels! Cheers, Rick

  3. Rick, this review really had me laughing! I remember seeing this once in a while on TV in the 70s and I always liked it. (Is it really 2 1/2 hours long? It was no doubt cut shorter for television.) Then along came the Medved brothers and their hilarious trashing of the movie in one of their 100 Worst films books, and I've never been able to think of Hurry Sundown in any positive way since then. Now I'd like to see it again. I do remember being moved by some of the acting. Thanks for discussing both the pros and cons.

    1. Hi, Despite it's faults, Hurry Sundown is till very watchable, and some of the cast is really good. It certainly is more entertaining and faster moving than the previous year's "The Chase." Cheers and good to hear from you, Rick