Gene Tierney has arrived by private plane in the desert of North Africa & the little plane immediately takes off without her. She meets some natives with spears & camels & they give her nice shoes & they all start off across the desert together.
It's lushly enough photographed in these opening scenes as to seem almost consequential. But consequential Sundown (1941) will never be, having as much credibility as a wartime episode of a Jungle Jim movie, though set in the desert rather than the jungle.
Now & then the film will cut back to Tierney crossing the desert with her Arab chums. The method of introduction, arriving from outside the environment by airplane, & her general appearance as a Hollywood actress rather than anyone local, make it seem fairly obvious that she's come from North America or maybe London to find something or someone.
But nooooo. She's supposed to be a native caravaneer, an important Arabian trader. Like I was so convinced.
For the longest while her character is left in the background unexplained as the film focuses on a camp of Europeans reenacting an absurd history of wartime Africa, with battles & politics & lots of masculine doings with such stars as Bruce Cabot & George Saunders, as viewed from a pleasant little camp with plenty of native servants.
Glimpses of Tierney of her walking with nomads across the desert, without dialogue, without much of a context, eventually brings her into the company of the tidy little camp, where we'll finally be treated to the improbable revelation that she's a native trader. Although she is European in origin, she was raised by Arabs, not that there is any evidence by her dress, speech, religion, or attitude that she wasn't raised instead at Tiffany's.
She's like the Queen of Sheba, but really just a belated inclusion of a girl in the all-boys story of wartime. There is no evidence at any time within the film that she has any connections with anyone as a trader, but is nevertheless valued by European spies & fighters because of her connections throughout Africa. By the time all this unfolds there is no longer any question but that here is a movie that is quite simply dum-dee dumb dumb.
There's an evil plot to get guns into the hands of black Kenyans. Our Queen of Sheba will use all her feminine & political wiles in service to the allied forces to stop black people from getting guns.
This nonsense alludes with rather criminal illogicality to the East African Campaign during which Great Britain fought Italians on Somiland & marginally on Kenyan turf. Kenyans in point of history also fought the Italians on two of their borders, & the film's horror of black people being armed is just unquestioned racism without any reference to the facts.
From well before World War II much of the region had already been divided up by European conquerors so that Italy, France, & England were occupying forces who'd carved up a pie. When war broke out in Europe, armies for each country's imperial conquests had another layer of politics, & battle, to consider.
Ten years later when Kenyans did fight the British, it was for liberation from colonialists. But mid-1940 when the Italians entered Kenya, Kenyans were not the enemies of Britain, though considering longstanding British abuses against the subdued nation, they should've been.
I simplify, but the film does worse, it fibs or ignores. It pretends Brits belonged there, Italians didn't, they were all only there due to war, & Black people could only be servants or enemies. But then, since when was Hollywood expected to do any better than that.
A nasty Italian spy in service of the Nazis kidnaps our unconvincing Queen of sheba & this & that happens & there's a very tepid love story thrown in though barely developed. There are a few skirmishes staged in the last third passing for action. All of it is utter rubbish, then it ends with a big church choir of little boys for christ sake.
Sundown leaves any thinking viewer awestruck by the inexplicable presumption that any of this constitutes a story of merit. Though intended as a bit of war-support propoganda, released before the United States entered the war, even on the level of propoganda it makes way too little sense.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl