DVD Review: Hurry Sundown

After years of small parts in movies, Michael Caine quickly became a star with Zulu, Alfie and The Iprcress File. He got the big call to come to Hollywood by famed director Otto Preminger. He wasn’t offered the usual role of the British butler (that would come decades later with Batman Begins). He was given the ripe role of a Southern scoundrel. Hurry Sundown takes us to the deep South for a tale of slavery, land and racism.

Henry Warren (Michael Caine) has been doing his best to wheel and deal a large chunk of property for a huge factory in his sleepy town. He and his wife (Jane Fonda) have already optioned off their land. Now he has to negotiate two other parcels. One is controlled by his cousin (Danger: Diabolik‘s John Phillip Law). The other section now is occupied by his wife’s ancestor’s former slaves led by Reeve Scott (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock‘s Robert Hooks). He figured it’d be an easy deal except the two men want to work together to create a better irrigation system for their adjoining farms. Their time in the military during World War II has made them a lot more racially tolerant than the locals. Warren has to do his best to get the land from the duo or his own deal will fall flat. He will go to extremes. His wife doesn’t mind doing the dirty work when it comes to convincing Scott’s mother that her family wasn’t really given the property. This ends up as a nasty court case.

The film is dramatic with it’s dealing with racial issues, but it’s hard not to get a laugh out of the tense courtroom scene since Burgess Meredith (Penguin on Batman) is the judge. This was Caine’s first major film using an American accent. After the initial humor of Caine speaking like Billy Bob Thornton, he sounds rather convincing. Supposedly he was trained by Vivian Leigh (Gone With the Wind). What is interesting is Caine is using his new accent to say, “Sookie.” It’s like he deserves a cameo on True Blood. Jane Fonda is vicious when she wants something bad. The relationship between John Phillip Law and Robert Hooks has the necessary awkwardness. They are two guys who know better and don’t care what others think. They do have issues with what the local rednecks want to do to them. While part of this film is rather talkie, there’s dynamite exploding on the screen.

What makes Hurry Sundown significant is that director Otto Preminger (Mr. Freeze on Batman) wasn’t going to film this tale of the South in a Hollywood backlot. He wanted to make a film about the South in the South. The racial problems on the screen were equaled by the ugliness behind the cameras. Gov. George Wallace refused to let Preminger shoot in Alabama. The locals gave out death threats and vandalized cars associated with the production because they didn’t like the fact that a black actor had a leading role.

Michael Caine proved with Hurry Sundown that he could act as other characters and not merely play an Englishman. He could not only play an American, but an extremely unheroic one.

The video is 2.35:1 anamorphic. The details are fine. You get a sense of place when they’re shooting exteriors. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. The levels are fine without any major issues. No extras are included.

Hurry Sundown gets underneath the normal land greed. Michael Caine gets sweaty and slimy as he finagles a land deal to maintain his wealth. He’s the perfect Southern weasel. The is a lot of racial slurs in the film so you might not want the kids watching along. This is a film for those seeking a drama about racial issues in post-World War II America. It is interesting to think that both Burgess Meredith and Otto Preminger would end up as villains on Batman after the film wrapped.

Olive Films presents Hurry Sundown. Directed by Otto Preminger. Starring: Michael Caine, Jane Fonda, George Kennedy, John Phillip Law and Burgess Meredith. Running Time: 142 Minutes. Released on DVD: May 17, 2011. Available at Amazon.com.

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