Suave Mexican cattleman Alvarez Kelly has little interest in the Civil War except to make some money. But after a long drive to deliver cattle to the Unionists he finds himself kidnapped by... See full summary »
Suave Mexican cattleman Alvarez Kelly has little interest in the Civil War except to make some money. But after a long drive to deliver cattle to the Unionists he finds himself kidnapped by Confederate Colonel Tom Rossiter. With his hungry troops surrounded in Richmond the Colonel intends, one way or the other, to persuade Kelly to help steal the herd and move it into town. Written by
Jeremy Perkins <email@example.com>
Despite the firepower of the Union Cavalry at the bridge, not one steer is seen to fall down dead or wounded. There are fallen cattle seen after the herd has crossed the bridge, but these are obviously live cattle with their legs tied, as can be seen when they struggle to stand up. See more »
This is another film I decided to re-acquaint myself with in order to pay a well-deserved tribute to the late, great Richard Widmark. It’s one of the last Westerns he did and, in fact, it came at a time when the old-style Hollywood approach to the genre was coming to an end; actually, Widmark’s co-star from ALVAREZ KELLY – William Holden (here playing the title character) – would only a few years later feature in the film that gave the Western new-fangled maturity and an equally potent elegiac tone i.e. Sam Peckinpah’s THE WILD BUNCH (1969)!
Anyway, to get back to the matter at hand, ALVAREZ KELLY seems to me to be unjustly neglected when it comes to discussing large-scale Westerns of the era. It may be because there is little action per se – though the climactic skirmish/chase (culminating in the blowing-up of a bridge: let’s not forget that Holden was one of the leads in two big-budget, star-studded war adventures, namely THE BRIDGES AT TOKO-RI  and THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI ) is exciting enough – or the fact that the plot is atypical (inspired by a true incident in which a herd of cattle, sold to the Yanks by neutral Holden during the American Civil War, is stolen en masse from under their very noses by the opposing Confederate side, led by Widmark and who has abducted Holden to this end!). With respect to this curious narrative, the film opens with a nice animated sequence depicting the importance of securing food at a time of war throughout the ages.
The two stars’ respective parts have been tailor-made for their established screen personas. Holden is cynical, opportunistic and charming (ironically, I’ve just recalled that I used these exact same words to describe Widmark’s younger character in GARDEN OF EVIL !). Widmark, on the other hand, is here a tough army man whose commitment to the Southern cause makes him ruthless above all else – alienating him from fiancée Janice Rule, and even considering drowning the entire herd in a swamp if it’s to fall back into the hands of the Yanks; sensing his unreasonable outlook early on, Holden quips: “God save me from dedicated men”! They’re at their best in a couple of major confrontation scenes: the first in which a one-eyed Widmark shoots off one of Holden’s fingers (while the latter is in prison) because of his lack of co-operation, and when Holden coolly explains to an aghast – and subsequently furious – Widmark that the clandestine passage he arranged for (on a steamboat which has just sailed) was not for himself but rather the disenchanted Rule! Predictably, but believably, the two men’s relationship ends in mutual respect – with Widmark even saving Holden’s life towards the end.
The supporting cast is led by the afore-mentioned Rule, who does quite well by her Southern belle role (another lady – played by Victoria Shaw – proves more responsive and loyal to Widmark’s exploits), and Patrick O’Neal in the part of the Unionist Major who negotiated the initial deal with Holden, is having a hard time convincing his superiors of the enemy’s incredible plan, and who can’t fathom how the black slaves are unwilling to emancipate themselves (but rather shield those who want to keep them under their thumb!). By the way, surely one of the film’s main assets is John Green’s cheerful and memorable score (complete with a hackneyed yet agreeable title tune sung by The Brothers Four, an obscure folk group which seems to have remained active to this day).
This unusual Western, then, is more than just a pleasant diversion (an epithet by which it’s often dismissed): good-looking, engaging, and certainly never boring – despite a not inconsiderable length of 110 minutes (though it’s listed officially on most sources at my disposal as being 116!).
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