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The Kentuckian
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The Kentuckian More at IMDbPro »

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27 out of 31 people found the following review useful:

A Good Period Piece

Author: mvickio14 from United States
14 November 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I agree with one of the persons who commented on this movie that this is a good period piece. This movie is true in showing the speech, habits, attitudes, clothing, and just life in general, in the backwoods of the Kentucky/Indiana area of the 1820's. I should know. My family moved across the Ohio River into Indiana from Kentucky, near where this movie was filmed, during this same time period of the 1820's, and I have family correspondence showing the life of this areas people of the 1820's.

I love this movie, but then, I might be prejudice. It was made in 1954 just before my 12 birthday, and my family and I were in it. My brother and I played school kids, my dad was a farmer, and my mother was one of the ladies on the river boat. I loved being on the set in the Lincoln Village in Rockport, Indiana and watching Burt striding around in his period costume. He always acted as if he knew exactly what he was doing. Everybody give Walter lots of room while he got lessons from Lash LaRue, an expert bullwhipper from old Hollywood westerns, on how to use the bullwhip. He learned some but, it was Lash who did the big scenes. Miss Lynn was kind and sweet to all of us kids when we did the schoolroom scenes. John Caradine was always golly and cheerful and seemed to love everybody, and what he was doing.

I could go on, and on. I have tons of behind the scene pictures my dad took, a lovely picture of my lovely mother in a beautiful period costume on the boat, and a copy of "Gabriel's Horn," the book from which the movie was taken, as well as a copy of the movie.

As an adult 53 years later, I look at this movie and see a decent, true, period movie, with lessons to be learned, that anyone of the 1950's would have enjoyed. Some of the parts could have been cast better, but, do not judge it by today's standards. Lancaster, et al, worked hard and stayed true to the times they were portraying, and credit is due.

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20 out of 24 people found the following review useful:

For Burt Fans, Isn't everyone?

9/10
Author: Andy (alydar21@hotmail.com) from Indianapolis
24 April 2001

Lancaster's only directing role. A decent western with a twist or two, especially at the ending showdown, which features 10 dramatic seconds of feat that only Lancaster could make suspenseful.

How does a man defeat an armed enemy while standing opposite a 40 yard wide stream, and with no gun? The daring Lancaster meets this challenge with a surprising, brash dash. Check it out.

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21 out of 26 people found the following review useful:

the showdown: one with a whip, the other unarmed.

Author: alexandre michel liberman (tmwest) from S. Paulo, Brazil
8 June 2006

This film is unusual and interesting, it shows the life in a small town before the time of the westerns we are used to see, when you still had to sock powder into the rifle before shooting. When Lancaster and his son which are used to live in the woods come to town, people make fun of them, it is surprising how cruel they are. During the film both are going to change, the son will grow up and Lancaster will become a wiser man. There are two women, Diane Foster and Diana Lynn, both are charming and it is going to be a hard choice for Lancaster. Walther Matthau is an expert with the whip and his fight with Lancaster is the high point of the film. "The Kentuckian" did not age and Lancaster came out very well as a director. To see the people, their habits, their way of talking, their music, combined with a good story makes this film worth seeing.

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18 out of 23 people found the following review useful:

Burt Lancaster stars and directs himself in minor western...

6/10
Author: Neil Doyle from U.S.A.
17 June 2007

BURT LANCASTER stars as THE KENTUCKIAN who has a yearning to go where the grass is greener and wants to leave Kentucky for a new life in Texas with his young son in tow. DIANA LYNN is a pretty schoolteacher at the schoolhouse cabin and DIANNE FOSTER is the other female lead, an indentured servant, with a yen for Lancaster.

Good supporting roles for WALTER MATTHAU (making his screen debut) and JOHN CARRADINE. JOHN LITEL makes a welcome appearance as a riverboat man, but the story lacks a strong enough plot to maintain interest in the rather pedestrian proceedings. Filmed in widescreen color and CinemaScope, it looks as though a lavish budget has been expended on a tiresome script.

Fortunately, the film picks up interest toward the last fifteen minutes when Lancaster and his son have to defend themselves against badman Matthau and his cohorts. There's also a confrontational bullwhip scene with Matthau and Lancaster that is well staged and effective.

But the story is rather trite and there's nothing special about Lancaster's performance or his direction. I would have preferred a more appealing youngster for Young Eli than DONALD MacDONALD who walks through his role without ever inhabiting it.

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14 out of 16 people found the following review useful:

When A Wakefield Meets A Fromes

7/10
Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
5 August 2008

In the first of two films Burt Lancaster directs as well as stars, he plays the title role of Eli Wakefield who is The Kentuckian. The part of the frontiersman in the James Monroe presidency fits Lancaster's robust personality perfectly. He's very much a combination of both the William Holden and Robert Mitchum characters in Rachel and the Stranger, taking the best aspects of both for his portrayal. Like Mitchum he's got 'woodsy' ways and like Holden he aims to see his son grows out of those ways.

Just where and how little David McDonald does grow up does concern Lancaster and he does during the course of The Kentuckian reexamine just what it is he wants for himself and his son. He's also got a real problem in the shape of a pair of inbred mountain people called Fromes whose family has feuded with the Wakefields for a couple of generations.

Burt's moving west with his boy to get away from the mountain feud so his kid has a chance to grow up and their destination is Texas which the Mexicans had opened up for Yankee settlers eventually to their regret. But he helps a lady in distress in the person of bond servant Dianne Foster and spends his 'Texas' money buying out her contract from Will Wright.

So a planned visit with brother John McIntire and sister-in-law Una Merkel is going to be longer than he thought especially with McIntire wanting to remake Lancaster into a merchant like himself. McIntire also has a wife picked out for him in the person of school teacher Diana Lynn.

The film was shot in Owensboro, Kentucky and presumably in 1955 there was still enough 'woodsy' territory that it still looked like 1820 frontier America. Director Lancaster got good performances out of his cast which included Walter Matthau making his motion picture debut. Matthau plays a tavern owner and town bully, a mean man with a bull-whip who goes after an unarmed Lancaster with one. That scene is really the climax of the film.

However the two to watch for here are the Fromes brothers, Paul Wexler and Douglas Spencer. They are a pair of evil looking dudes, no doubt ancestors of those guys from Deliverance.

In a recent biography of Burt Lancaster, because of some disparaging comments Lancaster made about directors, the Director's Guild first refused to let him direct his own film. Eventually the production company, Hecht-Hill-Lancaster got a waiver from the Guild. I think they wanted to Burt to sweat a little. For him though directing turned out not to be something he wanted to do, he got through the film with some difficulty and it was no accident that while he was on the production end, Lancaster only directed one other film in his career, Midnight Man.

The Kentuckian is a good film, perfectly suited to Burt Lancaster's athleticism and charisma, a must for his fans.

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17 out of 22 people found the following review useful:

Who Dast? Who Dast?! (who dares/darest)

Author: cryofan-2 from Houston TX
22 June 2001

That was the boastful phrase uttered by Walter Matthau to everyone else at the gathering; he stood before them snapping his bullwhip in air, its wicked cracking part of an old cultural ritual where a man stands before the tribe boasting of his might.

This movie is totally underrated--not only does Matthau give one of his best performances in a smaller role, but there is tons of folklore and history in this gem.

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14 out of 17 people found the following review useful:

Interesting slice of Americana

8/10
Author: rsgre from United States
29 August 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The most interesting thing about this movie is it's depiction of the frontier life of the 1820's, which is virtually unknown to most people today. Alternating between leisurely pace, and exciting action, it's an interesting look at a part of the U.S. history that is seldom explored in film. I enjoyed it very much, including Bernard Herrmann's score, which fits perfectly into the action. What would have seemed as an unusual choice for composer, turned out to be exactly right in this case.

Only the ending was a little disappointing to me, it was much too abrupt. Just five minutes more of showing them all heading off to Texas (on the steamboat, or in a wagon train perhaps?) would have been much more satisfying...

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16 out of 22 people found the following review useful:

Take life in big bites...

Author: rgmcnabb from Hooterville, TN
28 May 2004

This is a delightful movie. For one thing, it does a fine job of putting you in the time and place - the set interiors are wonderful. Burt Lancaster is great as the boy grown up who wants his son to be free in a free country, to "take life in big bites", as he has done. That events conspire against him is inevitable, and the story pulls you along convincingly. The one to watch for is Walter Matthau, in a very early role, who is a real SOB with a wicked bullwhip. While the dialogue may sound preposterous and stilted, this is the way people spoke back in 18th century America, and the movie wins on many points. While it is definitely a product of the 50's, and feels like it, it still rings authentic and heart felt in a way that many other similar movies from the same period simply do not. A cut above, and definitely worth the time to seek out and watch.

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13 out of 18 people found the following review useful:

Not a bad yarn

Author: mozli from Milwaukee, Wisconsin
21 September 2004

This was a decently put together film. Not too heavy but not too lightweight either, (the bullwhip fight with Matthau is almost worth the price of admission). It is a basic decent family film that doesn't get saccharine or soggy. The white indentured servant angle is one that I haven't seen a lot of and it plays well here. Burt is robust as usual and kickin' a lot of frontier butt. Its kinda unusual(for me) to see him play a rube.

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6 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Superb Depiction Of A Forgotten Era

8/10
Author: louis-king from Watertown, Massachusetts
6 November 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I really liked this movie. Hollywood usually doesn't cover this period because the firearms are rather cumbersome flintlocks. It's hard to have exciting gunplay, though Lancaster makes the best of it.

The movie shows early America with all it's provincial warts. The townspeople seem rather cruel to the outsider (Lancaster) and his son because he's a rube, although they're not much better educated themselves. You can easily see these people rushing out to California to look for gold in a few years, trampling everything in their path. The backwoodsmen who seek to kill Lancaster are taciturn and single-minded. Exactly the type to carry on a feud for generations.

There's no law enforcement in this town so the town bully (Mathau) does what he likes.

An underlying theme is the importance of education and planning ahead. Lancaster turns the tables on the townspeople and gains their respect by using his education and smarts rather than by physical force.

Lancaster does manage several fine action scenes, and as an actor is quite convincing as an ignorant rube (at first) and as a pretend rube (on the riverboat).

I thought the movie paid close attention to period details and speech patterns. It really captured the young USA during it's early expansion period.

I liked the inclusion of a musical sing-along by the piano, especially the lovely tune "My Darling".

Spoiler: If there's a flaw in this movie is the failure of Lancaster to have more of a romance with Diane Foster. It's implied that they'll be together by the end of the movie, but they never even kiss.

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