Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Short Cuts 6: Sundown

Sundown -- and Retreat

“It is bad form talking during Retreat.”

Lieutenant Roddy Turner (Reginald Gardiner) says that to his colleague in Sundown during the playing of Retreat at an English outpost in Kenya during the early years of the Second World War.

Sundown is a World War Two movie made by a very capable director (Henry Hathaway), ably supported by Gene Tierney, George Sanders, Bruce Cabot and Reginald Gardiner. The star is stunning to the eye, the cinematography is exceptional, the action is straightforward, and there is a pre-Miniveresque conclusion – with Cedric Hardwicke on hand to lend it gravitas.

My friend Leo was ever fond of saying he never saw a bad movie that included tracer bullets. (He also had a thing about moats, but that’s a tale for another day.) So Sundown, recently shown on Turner Classic Movies, provided me the opportunity once again to see tracer bullets (which actually have a plot purpose) and to see the ever urban Marc Lawrence as an irascible Arab. And to see, of course, the beautiful Gene Tierney in a pristine state playing an exotic tribal princess. I had seen the film as a boy, but not again in recent decades. So those cited images and portrayals were the film’s primary vestiges in my memory.

In my youth, when I followed an usherette with a flashlight, I never quite knew my destination. My first viewing of Sundown likely took me to Equatorial Africa. This recent viewing with the evocative phrase “It is bad form talking during Retreat” took me to West Germany in the late 1950s.

I served in the peacetime Army and was stationed at Gibbs Kaserne in Frankfurt am Main in 1958 and 1959. A chance remark in an older film can take you down a path that was once well traveled, but now long ignored.

When my unit was not in the field, Retreat signalled the end of our official day. I worked in the Headquarters Building shown in the following photograph. The picture brings back memories of late afternoons when I left my office and walked across the parade ground to my living quarters.

Occasionally, my walk across the parade ground would occur when Retreat was sounded. Everything ceases movement. Everything. (Imagine a freeze frame.) Moving vehicles stop. Walking personnel halt, stand at attention and face the flag. The sounds of a military base switch to silence. I stopped, I stood at attention and I faced the flag. Retreat was followed immediately by the lowering of the flag (photo at top) at which time I saluted until the ceremony was complete. If I was with someone, we never spoke. “It is bad form talking during Retreat.”

I recall stopping on that parade ground at Retreat often during my time at Gibbs Kaserne. I recall standing at attention and saluting as the flag was lowered and I recall reflecting on my surroundings. Retreat was the one time of day, during an abstract period of my life, that I felt I was really a part of something. It is a vivid image and a moving memory that I have carried into my later years. Sundown. Retreat. End of day.


  1. I love this phrase: "In my youth, when I followed an usherette with a flashlight, I never quite knew my destination." It would be a great first line to a novel.

  2. Thank you KC as always. Certainly the merit of the line lies in its truth and in the experience many of us have shared at one time or another. Best. Gerald.