Decision at Sundown

M Mature themes and violence

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Decision at Sundown is the third (after The Tall T) in a cycle of minimalist, “chamber” westerns tautly directed by Budd Boetticher and starring Randolph Scott, a veteran actor whose “expressively inexpressive face” (Mike Dibb) is one of the lasting icons of the genre. As in a number of the other films in this poker-game-like series, Scott is out to seek vengeance for the death of his wife and arrives in Sundown to hunt down the local boss who he blames for her suicide.

Shifting its attention from the surrounding landscape of the Alabama Hills to the claustrophobic terrain of a small town, Boetticher’s intimate western pits the morally righteous Scott against the increasingly fractious and corrupted townspeople. But things are not quite as they seem.

The trail-worn philosophies and actions of Boetticher’s westerns repeat and evoke the archetypes of the genre, as well as each other, while providing endless small-scale variations on character, theme, motivation and setting. In refining such fundamental elements, they also achieve a kind of purity, an abstraction and elevation of generic archetypes lifted to a metaphysical realm. For more on Boetticher’s unique contribution to American cinema, and the precisely measured films in this cycle in particular, visit the extensive special dossier on the director published by Senses of Cinema in 2017.

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