Sunset is a movie that grows on you, or at least it has grown on us. We’ve always liked it. Now, many watchings later, we like it even more. With Blake Edwards directing and starring James Garner, Bruce Willis, Malcolm McDowell and a score by Henry Mancini, you’ve got to figure this is going to be good entertainment. And you would be right.
The story starts with Wyatt Earp (James Garner) arriving in Hollywood to consult on a new film about the gunfight at OK Corral. Wyatt and Tom Mix (Bruce Willis) strike up a friendship, then team up to solve a real life crime committed by evil movie mogul Alfie Alperin (Malcolm McDowell). There are great lines in this movie, but the best is the wonderful refrain line, “Give or take a lie or two.”
The movie makes no pretence at historical accuracy. This is fun and fantasy, historical fiction mixed liberally with guns, early Hollywood mythology and at least one classic gunfight. It’s “once upon a time” style clearly announces that this is not a movie to be taken seriously. The characters are loosely — very loosely — based on real characters but the events portrayed never happened … give or take a lie or two.
So yesterday, while we were watching another favorite Blake Edwards film, S.O.B., we got to discussing which of the characters was Blake Edwards daughter Jennifer (it turned out to be Lila, one of the young hitchhikers). Garry pointed out that she had played Victoria Alperin in Sunset and while I was looking all this up, I wandered over to Wikipedia and started reading various bits of stuff about Sunset.
What to my wondering eyes should appear but a section titled “Historical errors.” Huh? I was intrigued, being as the film never claimed to be historical, accurate or otherwise.
They actually used to have a section in Wikipedia pointing out the historical inaccuracies in the movie:
The action takes place in the year 1929, the year of the first Academy Awards presentation. It depicts Wyatt Earp arriving (and later leaving) Los Angeles by train; in fact, Earp had been living in the Los Angeles area since about 1910. It depicts Earp as single, in reasonably athletic condition, and carrying on a brief romance with young Cheryl (Mariel Hemingway); in fact, Earp, who was born in 1848, had long been married to Josephine Marcus. It similarly depicts Tom Mix as single and carrying on a prolonged and uninhibited romance with his assistant, Nancy; in fact, Mix was then, and for years afterward, married to his third wife. In the course of the film, Earp says that Calamity Jane’s real name was Mary Jane Cannary; her first name was Martha, not Mary. It depicts Earp as technical advisor to a Tom Mix film of the gunfight at the OK Corral in which Mix portrays Earp; Mix made no such film and never portrayed Earp, who served as an unpaid advisor, years earlier, on some silent movies. The film depicts Earp attending the first Academy Awards presentation at a late evening dinner; in fact, the awards were presented at a brunch on May 16, 1929—four months after Earp had died at the age of 80.
Final title cards of the credits:
Title Card: …and that’s the way it really happened.
Title Card: Give or take a lie or two.
It’s at moments like this I wonder if the people who write this stuff watched the movie. This is not a documentary. It isn’t even historical fiction. It’s a comedy, set in Hollywood circa 1929. The villain is completely fictitious. Whatever relationship existed between Wyatt Earp and Tom Mix is anybody’s guess. The only fact is that Tom Mix was a pall bearer at Wyatt Earp’s funeral.
Including this section at all indicates that whoever wrote it never watched the movie or missed not merely “the point,” but everything. For the first time in my life, I actually put a note into Wikipedia:
The movie is pure fiction and the refrain line, “Give or take a lie or two,” more or less sums up the “historical” accuracy. It does not claim to be historically accurate and in fact, makes a point — frequently repeated — that this is a Hollywood fairy tale that begins with “once upon a time,” or words to that effect. Critiquing the historical accuracy of a piece of comedic fiction is absurd. The following information may be correct, but it’s entirely irrelevant to the movie. —
Since I added my note, they changed the section to indicate that the movie is not supposed to be historical. Nonetheless, they continue to correct the history except they retitled the section Historical Context. So it’s slightly less stupid now. Glad my futile gesture was not entirely futile. What is the point in correcting historical errors — or providing historical context — for a movie that makes no claim of being historically accurate?
Who writes this stuff? You have to wonder. Or at the very least, I have to wonder.
Anyway, if you’ve never seen Sunset, the chemistry between Garner and Willis is great, the dialogue is witty, the movie is both funny and occasionally even suspenseful. Willis is at his charming best, as is Garner and together, under Edwards’ adept direction, they make magic.
Give or take a lie or two.