Having worked with formerly blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo on Spartacus to great success, Kirk Douglas hired the scribe to adapt Howard Rigsby’s 1957 novel Sundown at Crazy Horse. The 1961 movie title The Last Sunset would see the Hollywood star play fugitive Brendan O’Malley, who crosses the Mexican border and seeks refuge at the farm of his former lover Belle, played by Dorothy Malone. Meanwhile, US Marshall Dana Stripling, portrayed by Rock Hudson, arrives out of his jurisdiction to keep an eye on O’Malley. Kirk hired Robert Aldrich to direct the movie, but the filmmaker looked back with disdain at his time working on the project.
Aldrich was broke having shot “two bad pictures” in Europe and spent months trying to get a movie about Cossack Taras Bulba made unsuccessfully.
Years later, the director said of shooting The Last Sunset: “That was a toughie. I found it extremely difficult personally to do the film. But in this business, you have to stay alive. You have to take subjects like this to make money to eat, to buy more properties and float another project.”
The main catalyst for his feud with Kirk was after the star discovered Aldrich had a number of writers staying with him on the Mexico set working on other projects.
Aldrich said how Kirk was upset that he wasn’t as focused on The Last Sunset as he wanted him to be.
The director claimed: “He went berserk, he just went crazy.” As a result, he sent the writers away to Mexico City. The filmmaker found it particularly frustrating that Trumbo had written the script, but then left to go and work on Otto Preminger’s Exodus. And by the time he returned “it was too late to save it.”
He said: “Kirk was impossible. He knew the screenplay wasn’t right. The whole thing started badly, went on badly, ended badly.”
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However, Aldrich didn’t blame Trumbo for leaving to work on Exodus, saying he was “2000 per cent right” to do so. Considering the Communist screenwriter was coming off the Hollywood blacklist after more than a decade, he needed to re-establish his career.
Despite his issues with Kirk, Aldrich was impressed with his co-star, saying: “Rock Hudson of all people emerged from it more creditably than anyone. Most people don’t consider him a very accomplished actor but I found him terribly hardworking and dedicated and very serious… if everybody on that picture, from producer to writer to other actors, had approached it with the same dedication it would have been a lot better.”