Follow the Trail to the Last 10 Minutes
Theoretically "The Last Sunset" should be a very good movie, it stars Kirk Douglas, Rock Hudson and Dorothy Malone, it is directed by Robert Aldrich who would later on give us "The Dirty Dozen" and Dalton Trumbo whose writing skills were contributed to "Spartacus" and "Roman Holiday" is the writer who adapted Howard Rigsby's novel. But that is the theory and in reality "The Last Sunset" ends up for the most a very ordinary trail movie with many story elements which crop up in countless other westerns which focus on the dangers of the trail. It has but one thing which makes it interesting, a twist which is easy to see coming but none the less shocking, shocking in what you have watched but also in the repercussions when it happens. As such for the most "The Last Sunset" is a very ordinary and frankly average western which only gets good in the last 10 minutes.
Arriving at the Breckenbridge family home in Mexico, Brendan O'Malley (Kirk Douglas - Gunfight at the O.K. Corral) discovers an old flame, Belle (Dorothy Malone - Warlock), is now married to a drunkard and has a child. But still with feelings for her agrees to help with a cattle drive to Texas. Hot on O'Malley's trail is lawman Dana Stribling Rock Hudson - Pillow Talk) with a warrant for his arrest and a personal reason for serving it. Unable to bring O'Malley in till they are out of Mexico, Stribling joins the cattle drive and finds himself falling for Belle whilst O'Malley finds himself getting close to Belle's daughter Missy (Carol Lynley) causing tensions to rise between them all.
So as already mentioned for the most "The Last Sunset" is a rather unoriginal trail movie. We get back stories to explain why Stribling is on the trail of O'Malley and the history between O'Malley and Belle Breckenridge but for the most "The Last Sunset" goes through the motions of a trail movie. As such along the trail there is danger, there is action, there is a river crossing and close encounters with Indians but it all feels so average. Even the moments of action, and for me there was nowhere near enough, fail to stand out, to make you sit up and pay attention. Even the murder of John Breckenridge lacks drama or intensity making it a minor, forgettable moment in the movie.
But the thing is that "The Last Sunset" is a movie which is only good because of a twist, a twist which comes very late on in the movie and is very easy to see coming. Yet whilst the twist is obvious it is still shocking, shocking because of a scene which comes earlier and because of a scene which follows. To explain would ruin the intensity of that shock, the actual gut wrenching repulsion that you feel when something comes to light. And as such you have to say Kirk Douglas as O'Malley puts in a brilliant performance during the final scenes of "The Last Sunset", delivering a strong emotional performance which you feel every ounce of.
The things is that whilst Kirk Douglas delivers something really special in the last 10 minutes of the movie, what goes before is by no means special and he is not alone. Rock Hudson as Stribling and Dorothy Malone as Belle as well as Kirk Douglas as O'Malley all seem to be going through the motions, delivering cliche characters which fail to be anything more than 2 dimensional until the twist comes at which point they all become far more interesting. It also doesn't help matters that "The Last Sunset" is yet another movie where Kirk Douglas sings and whilst he can hold a tune it feels so forced and corny, especially with the big smile stretched across his face when ever he sings.
But there is a nice performance in "The Last Sunset" and that comes from Carol Lynley as Missy, the daughter of Belle. It's not the most complex of characters but the warmth and innocence which Lynley brings to the movie makes it wonderfully pleasant and such an easy character to fall in love with.
What this all boils down to is that whilst "The Last Sunset" has all the credentials for being a very good movie it ends up being ever so average. For the most it is a bog standard trail movie with 2 dimensional characters and routine drama but perks up in the last 10 minutes with a twist which is easy to spot but none the less very shocking and it is that twist which makes watching "The Last Sunset" worth it.