The Town That Dreaded Sundown (TTTDS) is a good example of why true stories should rarely be copied verbatim when making films.
Once I’d become accustomed to the older style of acting that pervades this film, in which the actors seem to have been told to ‘make it look like you’re acting, acting with all the sweat that you can muster!’ I became quite engaged in the story. It moves at a good speed which is rare for a 70s film. Perhaps I’ve simply been brainwashed into thinking the lightning-fast scenes I watch in a new film these days is the standard and I can’t appreciate anything else. But my overriding impression of films older than a certain time period, and this film falls within that zone, is constant unnecessary pregnant pauses and actors delivering lines so slowly it’s as if they’re worried about the audience not following the plot. Films of a certain age also take their sweet time establishing locations, far longer than people need to know where the action is taking place and how to feel about it.
But my Gen-Y prejudices aside, this film did not lose me as far as pacing is concerned. And once I got used to the acting I found myself investing in the main characters and the relationship between the Texas Ranger, Morales, and the Sheriff, Ramsey. Which is not to say the film spends much time developing their relationship. Often it feels like TTTDS is a dramatised documentary of the events that took place. Perhaps it’s the narrator, a technique I quite liked but that none the less gave it the impression of being an entry in the filing cabinet of history.
This brings me back to the key point: verbatim true stories rarely make good films especially when it comes to their endings. True stories almost always fall down when it comes to a satisfying or dramatic ending and TTTDS is no exception. I’m not saying true stories can’t be made into great films because they absolutely can be. But if you decide to follow a true story exactly then you’re locking yourself into the mediocrity of real life. Real life rarely delivers the kind of catharsis, twists of expectations, or sense of finality that films can and should deliver.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown is released on Blu-Ray and DVD by Eureka Entertainment.