Quietly released on DVD this past spring, Viennese director Otto Preminger’s (Carmen Jones, Porgy and Bess) 1967 film, Hurry Sundown, has been called “one of the worst films of all-time.”
Film critic Richard Schickel, in his LIFE magazine review of Hurry Sundown, said it “is an execrable film. Indeed, it is very possibly the worst major production to come out of Hollywood in the 1960’s.” The film, based on K.B. Gilden’s best-selling novel of the same name, is frequently referred to as “racist” and “offensive”.
But don’t let that stop you from deciding for yourself. If not for any other reason, I’d recommend Hurry Sundown solely for the opportunity to see strong performances from Diahann Carroll, Robert Hooks, Beah Richards, and Rex Ingram that likely would have remained eternally obscure, if not for this DVD release.
The film also stars Michael Caine, Jane Fonda, Faye Dunaway, and Burgess Meredith.
Without giving away too much about the film, I’ll only say that its plot revolves around a wealthy white businessman who needs to convince two farmers– one white and one black– to sell their land to him. The white farmer happens to be his cousin, and the black farmer’s mother was his wife’s “mammy”.
Many critics of the film have charged that it was a step back in terms of accurately depicting the relationship between blacks and whites in the Deep South during Jim Crow. Some have even reasoned that the film’s poor reception was merely a case of its 1946 setting and plot conflicting with the sometimes militant atmosphere and thinking of the late ‘60’s. In other words, the same way many of us have rejected The Help in 2011, so, too, did audiences reject Hurry Sundown in 1967.
I can totally understand why audiences would be turned off by the themes represented in this film in 1967; yet I did find some redeeming qualities that should be noted. One of the main black characters, Reeve Scott, played by Robert Hooks, is depicted as a courageous land-owner, not willing to back down in the face of pressure and personal loss. Diahann Carroll’s character, Vivian Thurlow, is a school teacher, and her father a professor.
AND, there’s even some black love depicted here; a rarity in even some of today’s mainstream films. Sure, there are some scenes that depict blacks in subservient roles, but we are talking about Deep South 1946, for goodness’ sake. To pretend that such scenes didn’t exist in real life would be ridiculous.
The controversy surrounding Hurry Sundown didn’t only apply to what we see on screen. In her 2008 auto-biography The Legs Are The Last Thing To Go: Aging, Acting, Marrying, and Other Things I Learned The Hard Way, Diahann Carroll revealed that working on the set of Hurry Sundown was no easy task. She recounted one particularly tense encounter she had with Preminger regarding something as simple as having access to a hairdresser who could successfully manage her hair in the humidity of the film’s Louisiana shooting location, which can be read HERE.
Bottom Line: In my opinion, Hurry Sundown is worth checking out for yourself. Its so-called controversial themes are a part of American history, and there’s no denying that. Watching the film myself, I didn’t see anything that I haven’t seen in many other racially-themed films that are considered “must-sees”. Most of you are mature adults, and I think you can handle it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Hurry Sundown has found its way to Netflix yet. However, the DVD is available for purchase through many online retailers.
For all you serious film buffs and movie snobs out there, I would recommend you giving it a shot. And the next time you’re showing off your DVD collection, you can revel in the fact that you own a Diahann Carroll film that a lot of your friends likely do not.