Rory Calhoun was a man that perfectly exemplified the western genre in its heyday. Along with Audie Murphy, Roy Rodgers, John Wayne and many others, they captured the hearts of many a movie-goer for decades, be it man, woman or child. The man was a bonafide star, perhaps not as big as those previously mentioned or those found in other genres, but when it came to Westerns, he was near the top of the class. The man would make all kinds of films, much like many of the stars who came up in the golden age of Hollywood, but most would associate the man with a cowboy hat, riding the trail and getting into gunfights with heroes and villains alike.
Red Sundown is one such film that finds the steely-eyed actor taking on the role of reformed villain. Calhoun stars as Longmire, a gunfighter who decides to change his ways after the death of his friend, a man who sacrificed his life in order that Longmire might live. Taking up a job as a deputy in a town that needs one, Longmire falls in love not only with the sheriff’s daughter, but with the town as well and he will defend it against those that would do it and its citizens harm, even if it means picking up the gun again.
Director Jack Arnold would bring his considerable talents to this story, one which was filled with fairly commonplace tropes found in many a Western film, but one that was ably directed and well-acted, thus making it a cut above many others. One of the few drawbacks was that this particular movie was mainly confined to the small town which they found themselves in, there being no shots of those big, natural vistas that many tumbleweed flicks usually sport. In light of that, the fact that the cast did an exceptional job of bringing the characters to life, including the lovely Martha Hyer as Caroline – Longmire’s love interest, the veteran Dean Jagger as the town’s lawman and Grant Williams as the baddie, more than made up for any perceived faults to be found.
Despite Universal and the various studios cranking Westerns out like there was no tomorrow, and why would they not do so when the audience was there to lap them up, it is always nice to discover a hidden gem along the way, forgotten amongst those big-name, star-studded pictures that everyone remembers. Red Sundown with its familiar story might be slightly run-of-the-mill, but it is solidly made and never fails to provide its audience with what it is they expected to see, namely drama, action, and excitement and a great performance from its star in Calhoun, who sells it more than anything else.
3.5 out of 5