Bruce Willis At The Movies: SUNSET - A Searing Dip into Hollywood's Golden Era - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Bruce Willis At The Movies: SUNSET - A Searing Dip into Hollywood's Golden Era

The magic of the movies lies not just in the tales they tell, but often in the tapestries behind the screen - the weave and weft of Hollywood's legends, its secrets and its scandals. "Sunset," released in 1988, was a tantalising blend of fact and fiction, mashing up real-life legends with a deliciously fictitious murder mystery. And smack in the centre of it all was Bruce Willis, hot on the heels of "Die Hard" and ready to solidify his cinematic presence.

The premise of "Sunset" is a captivating one: it's 1929, and silent film cowboy Tom Mix (played by Willis) teams up with aged lawman Wyatt Earp (portrayed by the enigmatic James Garner) to solve a Hollywood murder. The movie plays out on the glitzy, glamorous streets of Los Angeles, rife with roaring ‘20s charm. But, just beneath the sheen lies the dark underbelly of Hollywood's elite, their power plays, liaisons, and secrets.

The direction helm of "Sunset" was taken by none other than Blake Edwards, a director known for his deft touch on comedies. Edwards, whose portfolio boasted hits like "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "The Pink Panther" series, brought his unique storytelling style to this curious blend of historical figure meets fictional tale. Yet, despite the enchanting premise and a director with a celebrated touch, "Sunset" didn't shine as brightly as one would hope.

Behind the scenes, "Sunset" had its fair share of drama, adding a meta layer to the narrative. Willis, known for his assertive presence, often clashed with Edwards, a dynamic that first came to pass during the production of "Blind Date". The tension between the lead actor and the director was palpable. There are tales of intense discussions and disagreements during production. Blake Edwards, in an interview with The New York Times, lamented that working on "Sunset" was "one of the three worst experiences of his life."

The movie, upon its release on April 29, 1988, in the US, found itself facing the critics' microscope. The Washington Post commented, "It isn't a very good movie, but it's hard not to feel kindly toward it." Meanwhile, Variety magazine, not pulling any punches, stated, "Sunset is a big, dumb, good-looking hollow joke." It’s evident that the film’s reception was, at best, tepid.

Despite its shimmering backdrop and star-studded cast, which included not only Willis and Garner but also the talented Mariel Hemingway, "Sunset" found itself struggling at the box office. Its US takings were a mere $4.6 million, with global figures not painting a much rosier picture.

For a film set in the golden age of Hollywood, the music was crucial. Laced with a vintage charm, the soundtrack for "Sunset" was composed by Henry Mancini, the same musical genius behind "Blind Date." His compositions, though melodious and fitting to the era, unfortunately, couldn’t pull the film out from its narrative shortcomings.

While the film itself didn't spawn spin-offs or merchandise, the allure of its concept - real historical figures solving fictional crimes - was seen in later cinema and television. Movies like "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" and TV shows such as "Timeless" and "Drunk History" hint at this blending of fact and fiction, though perhaps with more success than "Sunset."

Several intriguing aspects about the film warrant mention. For instance, James Garner had earlier played Wyatt Earp in "Hour of the Gun" (1967), and thus his portrayal in "Sunset" became a reimagining, making it an interesting casting choice. Moreover, Willis' portrayal of Tom Mix, though drenched in fiction, did manage to capture the flashy aura of the real-life silent film star, known for his opulence and love for fast cars.

"Sunset," while a curious blip in Willis' filmography, is emblematic of the risks that Hollywood occasionally takes, melding fact and fiction, legend and legacy. Though it didn't strike gold, it remains a testament to the ever-evolving, ever-adventurous spirit of the movies.

Looking back, one could argue that "Sunset" tried to do too much. It wanted to be a historical portrayal, a buddy-cop film, a comedy, and a mystery all rolled into one. Perhaps in its bid to be everything, it spread itself too thin. Yet, for aficionados of Hollywood's history and for Willis completists, "Sunset" remains an intriguing watch - a brave, if not entirely successful, experiment in genre blending and storytelling.

In the grand tapestry of Bruce Willis' career, "Sunset" is perhaps a minor stitch, but it's a colorful one, reminding viewers of a time when Hollywood was finding its feet, and legends were just around the corner, waiting for their cue.

View all our Bruce Willis filmography retrospectives here.

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