A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
“Sunset” sounds like a terrific idea for a movie. It's a murder thriller set in the Hollywood of the late 1920s, at the dawn of the sound era, and it's about how Wyatt Earp is hired to be a technical adviser on a film about his life - a film starring Tom Mix. Although Earp and Mix have little in common (one is a heroic frontier marshal and living legend, the other is a celluloid trick rider), they become close friends, and then allies in a blood-soaked adventure.
At this point you no doubt assume that I'm describing a comedy.
The strangest thing about “Sunset” is that it's not a comedy, not exactly. It has some laughs, but it's a sort of low-key, elegiac mood film in which Hollywood seems like a vaguely disappointing place. The movie was written and directed by Blake Edwards, who is a master of sustaining a film's energy level, but this time he doesn't seem willing to turn on the juice. After two manic comedies in a row - “Micki and Maude” and “Blind Date” - and the high-energy tragicomedy “That's Life!,” maybe he felt like dialing down, but the result is a movie that's long on atmosphere and yet somehow keeps its distance.
The plot seems borrowed, not from old Westerns, but from old hard-boiled detective movies. It could have been written by Raymond Chandler. We meet the oily, corrupt studio chief (Malcolm McDowell); his fearful wife (Patricia Hodge); Cheryl King (Mariel Hemingway), a not-quite hooker with a heart of gold; a powerful gangster (Joe Dallesandro), and the usual dishonest and venal lawmen (played by those two dependable villains Richard Bradford and M. Emmet Walsh with kind of a side bet on who can be the most hateful).