Plot: David (Jeffrey Hunter) and his wife Jean (Patricia Owens) have just arrived at their new home, a nice house in a nice neighborhood, in a nice area of the suburbs, the kind of place most people would love to call home. Sunrise Hills Estates is what the area is known as and while it seems to be filled affluent, well to do, good neighbors, things aren’t always as they seem. There is a quiet, and sometimes not so quiet desperation around most of the residents, as they’ve bought into a better life with no money down, but now struggle to keep pace with the financial demands of the lifestyle. As David and Jean settle in a little, they meet and get to know their neighbors, all of whom seem to want the life advertised in the Sunrise Hills campaign, but none seem to have even a little of that promised bliss.
Entertainment Value: This is a “trouble in suburbia” movie that tackles a wide array of topical issues of the time and while some of the elements feel dated, there’s a good amount of relevant social issues here. Of course, the approach used lacks the shock value it might have held at the time, such as the consumer exploitation thread that most people just accept as the status quo now. Tony Randall’s Jerry is still an interesting character, I think, as he is mired in debt thanks to the same financial chains he wants to yoke others in. Even if some of the stories are on the dated side, there are enough wheels in motion to compensate for that and the themes of racism, sexism, and the pursuit of happiness are obviously still a relevant part of the modern social discussion. These topics aren’t dealt with in depth, but they’re explored in interesting ways, often with Pat Hingle’s Herm as a voice of reason, even if he does feel like one man can’t do much against the social machine. The pace is a little slow, but I think the movie holds up well and I like how character driven No Down Payment is, especially given how deep and talented the cast is.
And the cast is an impressive one, which is good, given the depth required to make a multi-front narrative like this one work. As I said above, Tony Randall has one of the more interesting roles and he plays it well, giving us a believable turn as a man in over his head, hiding behind alcohol and extramarital affairs. Cameron Mitchell also offers a standout performance, bringing an aggressive presence that really contrasts well with the rest of the character’s social niceties. He seems to be the only one who openly deals with his concerns, though he does so in destructive fashion. But given that everyone here is toxic is one way or another, perhaps the blaze of glory is preferable to the slow poison of bitterness and envy. The dynamic between the various husbands and wives have a central role as well, especially as things unravel as we watch as the couples learn about the problems within the other relationships. Most of the pairs have good chemistry and believable conflict, but Hunter and Owens lack the same presence as the others, which dulls the shine a little. Even so, I think there’s a lot to like with No Down Payment, as it has a time capsule view on old school suburbia, some interesting social elements, and a terrific cast.
The Disc: Twilight Time has provided an exceptional visual presentation, one that allows the natural look of the film to shine through, while detail is high throughout and looks super crisp. The black & white visuals show off impressive contrast balance, with rich black levels and no loss of detail in the shadows. In other words, this is a remarkable effort from Twilight Time. The lone extra is the film’s music presented in an isolated track.