Rock Hudson Gets Even

Enemies Rock Hudson (L) and Kirk Douglas need to keep each other alive. Image: Rotten Tomatoes

Note: This film contains a disturbing plot development, of which we were unaware when we chose it for the Rock Hudson Blogathon. We’ll focus on the actors and characters, not the story.

On the face of it, The Last Sunset (1961) appears to be a Run-Of-The-Mill western, and in some ways, it is.

The story centres on a cattle drive from Mexico to Texas. There are many dangers en route – quelle surprise! – but the greatest threat lies with the individuals involved.

The cattle are owned by an aging Virginian (Joseph Cotten), a veteran of the American Civil War. Cotten is a magnanimous ranch owner; he’s generous and charming, given to both liquor and flowery language.

His wife (Dorothy Malone) is a beautiful, tough woman who makes the best of a hard life. It’s not surprising she gains the affections of both Kirk Douglas and Rock Hudson, two men on the cattle drive who have Unfinished Business with each other.

Turns out Douglas has a lot of unfinished business in life. He and Malone were once sweethearts, and Douglas claims he’s come to Mexico to rekindle the romance. Malone contends he’s using her ranch as a Hideout.

She’s proven right when Hudson arrives, armed with a warrant for Douglas’s arrest. The charge is murder.

Both men arrive at the ranch on the eve of Cotten’s arduous cattle drive. Douglas charms his way into Cotten’s home and gains the affections of his teenaged daughter (Carol Lynley). He then offers his services as security detail on the drive, and even recommends Hudson as trail boss.

This will be a tense journey; above all else, we never lose sight of Hudson’s determination to see Douglas hanged.

Never a dull moment on a cattle drive. Image: Furious Cinema

Although Rock Hudson has top billing, this is A Kirk Douglas Film. According to TCM, the film was shot while Douglas’s sword-and-sandal epic Spartacus (1960) was in post-production.

“Kirk Douglas and his Bryna Production team went to Mexico to film the offbeat and perverse Western The Last Sunset,” says TCM. “Douglas himself took the complicated bad guy role, while…box-office star Rock Hudson received top billing as the vanilla good guy.”

Even though Douglas has the showier role, this film needs Hudson. He’s a quiet, determined Man Of Honour, and Douglas delights in exploiting these virtues.

You see, Douglas murdered the husband of Hudson’s sister, and Hudson wants Justice. But Douglas ain’t the type to go easy. “That sister of yours was a free drink on the house,” he tells Hudson, “and nobody went home thirsty. And I mean nobody.”

Naturally, this angers Hudson, and the pair engage in a fistfight until Malone fires a rifle in the air, because that’s the kind of gal she is.

However, the two men agree on this: Neither will kill the other until they reach the American border.

Douglas and Hudson are surprisingly good adversaries. Because Douglas is the scenery-chewing Star of the Show, we need Hudson to be the sober, moral centre of the film.

He keeps us grounded.

Dorothy Malone, the ultimate realist. Image: Gram Union

During his career, Rock Hudson appeared in nearly 70 films. When The Last Sunset was released, he was biggest star at Universal Studios, and heralded as one of Hollywood’s top leading men.

Hudson was born Roy Harold Scherer, Jr., in Illinois in 1925. According to Wikipedia, he moved to California after serving in WWII as an aircraft mechanic. He wanted to be an actor, and when he signed on with agent Henry Wilson, his name was changed to the glam “Rock Hudson”.

His first film appearance was in 1948; soon after he signed with Universal. There, says Wikipedia, Hudson “was further coached in acting, singing, dancing, fencing, and horseback riding, and he began to be featured in film magazines…”

Hudson is not one of those Look-At-Me-Act actors. He doesn’t draw attention to himself, but he also doesn’t shirk from a forceful co-star like Douglas.

We won’t recommend The Last Sunset, but if you do see it, you’ll likely appreciate Hudson’s quiet strength against Douglas’s bombastic villainy.

This post is part of the ROCK HUDSON BLOGATHON hosted by Love Letters to Old Hollywood and In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.

The Last Sunset: starring Rock Hudson, Kirk Douglas, Dorothy Malone. Directed by Robert Aldrich. Written by Dalton Trumbo. Universal Pictures, 1961, Colour, 112 mins.

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29 comments

  1. Think Aldrich meant this, as the title suggests, as a final deconstruction of the genre. As he did with Kiss Me Deadly. Hudson looks like he’s playing cowboy here. And his hat’s too small….

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  2. Okay, I couldn’t help it… I had to look up the plot after reading your warning at the top — and yikes! I’m still interested in seeing this, though, because I’m such a huge fan of Hudson, Douglas, Malone, and Cotten.

    I completely agree with your assessment of Hudson. A lot of people overlook what a great actor he was, and I think it might be because he never really did anything that was big or showy. As you pointed out, he was usually a steady, grounding presence in a film, which can be pretty thankless.

    Thanks so much for contributing to our blogathon!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Whoa! That is a similar plot twist.

      I found the relationship disturbing, and it doesn’t help that Lynley is so young. It really bothered me. But the acting in this film is utterly compelling – especially Douglas’s performance. You can’t take your eyes off him.

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  3. I can’t believe there is a film with Kirk Douglas I don’t even know about. Of course I had to look up the plot twist too. The movie sounds really interesting with a first-rate cast. I always thought Hudson was underrated as an actor. He was much more than just a pretty face. I find him quite interesting in Westerns. I always found him a more urban type but then I saw his early 50s Westerns and thought he acquitted himself quite well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I like Rock Hudson in westerns, too. I think he does a good job – and he looks mighty fine in western garb, too!

      When I chose this movie, I was shocked – shocked! – to discover Kirk Douglas was in it. He really is fab in this role.

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  4. Until this blogathon I didn’t realize that Hudson and Malone worked together more than once. I’m covering their second pairing in Tarnished Angels. And now I’m learning thanks to your review that they starred together a third time. I wonder why I’ve never heard more about their pairings? You’ve certainly piqued my interest in this film.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow with such a great cast I can see why people look to watching The Last Sunset but yeah the subject matter is a little off for me as well. In fact, when I was looking into the story on IMDB I read that Lauren Bacall was offered the role of Belle Breckinridge, but found the subject matter to be rather offensive as well. But great write up never the less.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Lovely article. I’m really afraid to watch this now, but I really liked how you discussed how Rock’s performance balanced out Kirk’s. You’re writing style is also so humorous, which I really like. I may gird my loins and give this one a go just to see Rock be the quiet good guy to Kirk’s mouthy bad one.

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  7. Ah, the Kirk Western with the 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.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Wonderful contribution to the blogathon!
    I have to admit I was curious about the plot, so I read the discussions in the comments – WOW. I don’t blame Lauren Bacall for turning a role down in the film! Sadly this is one Rock Hudson film I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch, which is a real shame because he’s such a wonderful actor and I love watching him on screen – luckily he made so many more and I can also always re-watch my favourites! 🙂 Thanks so much for writing about this film for the blogathon in spite of the subject matter! You did a really good job on the review and it’s a much appreciated warning to those of us who may have ended up watching this film without knowing about the disturbing subject matter – I know I definitely appreciate it! Sorry you ended up accidentally taking one for the team though, so to speak! :/ *Hug*

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    • Thanks so much for your beautiful comments. The plot development in this film was certainly a surprise to me, although some folks suspected it all along. Believe me, I completely understand when a person says they don’t want to watch this.

      Like you said, Rock Hudson made many terrific films. For example, Pillow Talk is a film I have to see at least once a year.

      Liked by 1 person

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