Thursday, September 17, 2015

Rock and Dorothy Write It in the Dusty Wind; Leslie Caron Can't Replace Doris

Dorothy Malone may have won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Written on the Wind (1956), but Rock Hudson benefited more from the film's success. Along with Giant (1956) and his Jane Wyman pairings, Written on the Wind propelled Hudson into a major star. Thus, he was at the peak of his career while Malone's film roles were fading when they teamed up with Kirk Douglas in The Last Sunset. Malone's guest appearance in a 1961 two-part episode of Route 66 signaled the beginning of her transition to a television career that eventually resulted in the hit nighttime drama Peyton Place.

In The Last Sunset (1961), Malone plays the wife of a drunken, cowardly rancher (Joseph Cotten) who unknowingly offers a job to his spouse's former lover Bren O'Malley (Douglas). A Texas lawman named Stribling (Rock Hudson) wants O'Malley for the murder of his brother-in-law. The two men encounter each other at the ranch and, surprisingly, agree to put their showdown aside to help Malone and Cotten drive a herd of cattle through dangerous territory.

Considering the talent involved, including former blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo and director Robert Aldrich, The Last Sunset should have been a better film. Nevertheless, the cast keeps it interesting and Kirk Douglas makes Bren one of the most poetic cowboys in American cinema, as evidenced by the passage below:

Find yourself a nice, big boulder with the waves breaking against it. Look deep. Dream of seahorses and they'll come. Not many people know of it. Not many people care. But the sea is a place where the seamen shoe the hooves of the wild sea mare. Not many men have seen it or caught the faintest gleam of the ice green cave in the deep green sea in the heart of the cold sea stream, but the sea mare hides her young sea colt wrapped in a shy sea dream. But probably all the people know and can absolutely say that the foam on the sea is the sign that you see the mare and her colt at play.

Carol Lynley, in one of her first major roles, has the best scenes as Malone's daughter. Ironically, the two actresses share a Peyton Place connection. Carol played Allison in the film Return to Peyton Place (1961), while Dorothy Malone later portrayed Allison's mother on the 1964-69 TV series.

Malone might have improved her performance in The Last Sunset by toning down the glamour. One can almost overlook the soft blonde curls, but her heavy pink lipstick and eye shadow seem inappropriate for a woman driving the chow wagon on the cattle trail.

Finally, one can't discuss The Last Sunset without mentioning a climatic revelation that may make some viewers cringe. It's not that the revelation is surprising--I suspected it from the beginning. It's that the screenwriters insert a scene that will convince many viewers that their suspicions cannot be correct. Thus, when the "truth" (assuming Malone's character isn't lying) is revealed, the realization of what happened (and what could have happened) is an "oh my" moment. If this paragraph doesn't make sense, read it someday after you've seen the movie.

Chadwick talking with two girlfriends
at the same time.
Rock Hudson's versatility and popularity made him one of the busiest actors in the 1960s. In A Very Special Favor (1965), he trades his Western duds for a business suit as a New York-based "trouble-shooter" named Paul Chadwick. He defeats a French attorney, Michel Boullard (Maurice Chevalier), in court by sleeping with the female judge. The elderly Boullard admires Chadwick's way with the ladies. In turn, Chadwick bonds with Boullard and, feeling bad about how he won the case, offers to perform a future favor.

It turns out that Boullard is visiting New York City to spend time with his daughter--whom he hasn't seen in many years. He learns that she is a female psychiatrist (Leslie Caron) who completely dominates her fiance (a very funny Dick Shawn). Deciding that his daughter needs someone who can ignite her passion at least once, he calls in his very special favor with Chadwick.

Leslie Caron.
What follows is the kind of sex farce that Rock Hudson and Doris Day carried off so effortlessly in Lover Come Back (my fave), Pillow Talk, and Send Me No Flowers. The problem with A Very Special Favor is that Leslie Caron lacks Doris' comedic chops--and there's no Tony Randall!

It's still amusing to see Rock, who was a fine comedian, play a ladies' man masquerading as a sensitive guy who's afraid of the opposite sex. His performance, though, is just a variation of the role he played to perfection in Lover Come Back. And without Doris Day--the ying to his yang--A Very Special Favor falls flat too many times.


  1. It's too bad The Last Sunset isn't a better film, given the names attached to it. But I think I'll give it a go anyway.

    Not that it matters, but it drives me crazy when 1950s-60s films portray western women pioneers/settlers with beautifully coiffed hair and makeup...!

  2. Poor Dorothy, she was always getting cast as a wife to a drunken man. I watched her with Rock Hudson in The Tarnished Angels and that was a real dud. Or perhaps it was just because I was expecting a color jet pilot film along the lines of The Hunters. At least she found everlasting fame with Peyton Place.

  3. Yes, Dorothy deserved better roles. I've only seen the first season of the PEYTON PLACE TV series, but thought she was very good in it.

  4. Dorothy's place in flm hlstory is secure as ithe ibookstore clerk in The Blg Sleep. "Why you're beautlful wlthout your glasses". Too bad Howard Hawks never made full use of her.

  5. I adore Rock in comedic mode. I've even started watching "McMilland and Wife" reruns (didn't care for it first time around).

    Last year a friend loaned me the first DVDs of TVs "Peyton Place" and I was enthralled. Dorothy Malone is my new BFF.

    "The Last Sunset" is a mess, but it is the sort of mess you can't turn away from.

  6. Like everyone else here, I also like Dorothy Malone, and especially in "Peyton Place." But I always appreciate reviews of lesser known works. Well done,Rick!