Last Sunset (1961) Aldrich’s Western, Starring Kirk Douglas, Rock Hudson, Dorothy Malone

Robert Aldrich’s The Last Sunset, a star-driven Western, toplined by Kirk Douglas, Rock Hudson, Dorothy Malone and the young Carol Lynley, is not one of his best or popular pictures, but it demonstrated his versatility in terms of genres.

It was made before Aldrich’s horror picture, “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane,” his great commercial hit, airing Bette Davis and Joan Crawford for the first and last time of their careers.

The teaming of Douglas and Hudson was a smart artistic and box-office decision, following the two-generational pattern of other movies of the late 1950s and early 1960s, in which an elderly star was paired with a younger one, such as “Run Silent, Run Deep,” with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster, or “Operation Petticoat,” featuring Cary Grant and Tony Curtis.

It was produced by star Kirk Douglas (through his company), who again hired former blacklisted Dalton Trumbo, who had penned Spartacus for him. The script was adapted from Howard Rigsby’s novel Sundown at Crazy Horse.

Brendan O’Malley (Douglas), crossing the border into Mexico after a murder he had committed, arrives at the ranch of a former lover, Belle Breckenridge (Dorothy Malone) and her drunkard weakling of a husband (Joseph Cotton).

Upon meeting her teenage daughter Melissa (Carol Lynley), he falls for her as reminds him of Belle when they were lovers. Breckenridge, meanwhile, hires O’Malley to drive his herd to Texas.

Sheriff Dana Stribling (Rock Hudson) is pursuing O’Malley, who’s hired to drive his herd. He arrives at the ranchero to serve a warrant for the murder of his brother-in-law.

Since Stribling lacks jurisdiction to arrest O’Malley in Mexico, he too joins the cattle drive to Texas, promising to deliver the criminal to the law.

During the cattle drive, former Confederates confront Breckenridge in a bar and accuse him of cowardice during the Civil War; he is shot in the, back when trying to leave the bar. Stribling and O’Malley then shoot the killer and bury Breckinridge.

After the set-up, the narrative centers on two evolving couples: Stribling and Belle, who plan to marry, and O’Malley and Missy—despite the age difference.

Just before the expected showdown, Belle reveals that Missy is actually O’Malley’s daughter, which makes their incestuous.  The confession would not be particularly shocking to savvy viewers since all along there are hints about it.

At the gunfight, O’Malley faces the sheriff with what turns out to be unloaded gun, ready to die to save the girl.  In the last shot, Belle mourns the death of her father.

Cast

Rock Hudson as Dana Striblin

Kirk Douglas as Brendan ‘Bren’ O’Malle

Dorothy Malone as Belle Breckenridg

Joseph Cotton as John Breckenridg

Carol Lynley as Melissa ‘Missy’ Breckenridg

Neville Brand as Frank Hobb