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The Kentuckian (1955)

Passed | | Drama, Western | 11 August 1955 (Japan)
A Kentucky widower bound for 1820's Texas with his young son is thwarted in his efforts by a corrupt constable, a long-standing family feud, and a beautiful indentured servant.


Burt Lancaster


A.B. Guthrie Jr. (screenplay), Felix Holt (novel)
2 nominations. See more awards »


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Complete credited cast:
Burt Lancaster ... Elias Wakefield (Big Eli)
Dianne Foster ... Hannah Bolen
Diana Lynn ... Susie Spann
Walter Matthau ... Stan Bodine
Donald MacDonald ... Little Eli Wakefield
John McIntire ... Zack Wakefield
Una Merkel ... Sophie Wakefield
John Carradine ... Ziby Fletcher
John Litel ... Pleasant Tuesday Babson
Rhys Williams ... Constable
Edward Norris ... Roulette Dealer


A delicious love story centered around a single father attempting raise his son despite the temptations of liquor and women. Lancaster shines as the stable and regal frontiersman fending off the seductions of Walter Matthau and lewd desires.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis




Drama | Western


Passed | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »






Release Date:

11 August 1955 (Japan) See more »

Also Known As:

The Gabriel Horn See more »


Box Office

Gross USA:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

4-Track Stereo (Western Electric Recording)


Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

2.55 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


The first movie directed by Burt Lancaster. Due to the unfavorable critical response he did not direct again for almost 20 years, until The Midnight Man (1974). See more »


Early in the film when Big Eli sounds the call on the large horn, you can see by his face that he is not actually playing the horn, this is confirmed when he removes the horn from his mouth but the last note plays for a split second longer. See more »


[first lines]
Little Eli Wakefield: How long now, Pa? How many more days?
Elias Wakefield: We ain't much more than started!
See more »


Referenced in Hollywood Remembers Walter Matthau (2001) See more »

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User Reviews

Burt Lancaster's Eastern Frontier flick
9 December 2014 | by WuchakkSee all my reviews

Released in 1955, "The Kentuckian" is one of only a couple films directed by Burt Lancaster.

THE STORY takes place during the presidency of James Monroe circa 1820. Lancaster plays Eli Wakefield, a Kentuckian who desires more room to breath in Texas. Still in Kentucky, they blow their "Texas money" on freeing a beautiful indentured servant, Hannah (Dianne Foster). They don't get past the next frontier town where Eli takes up with his brother in the tobacco business and Hannah gets a job as a bar matron. Eli's dreams of Texas are sidetracked when he meets up with a schoolmarm (Diana Lynn) who encourages him to settle down and make a family with her. The problem is that Eli's son prefers Hannah and doesn't want to give up their Texas dream. Meanwhile feuders are hot on Eli's trail, not to mention malevolent local businessman with a whip (Walter Matthau).

Some highlights include:

  • Lush Eastern locations. The film was shot in Levi Jackson State Park, Kentucky (near London), as well as Owensboro, Kentucky, which is on the Ohio River, and Rockport, which is just across the river in Indiana. The river depicted in the film is supposed to be the Tennessee River (I think), but it was shot on the Ohio. In any event, although "The Kentuckian" is classified as a Western, it's actually an Eastern.

  • The film offers a good glimpse of what the Eastern USA was like back when it was still a frontier -- the cabin-styled houses, sleeping in the woods, etc. No internet, cable, video games, DVDs or microwaves. People actually sat down with other people and communed.

  • The story is realistic, albeit with some lame dialogue. Regardless,you don't have to worry about any goofiness or unbelievable bits that plague some 50's Westerns, except for the too-wooden-they're-funny feudalists.

  • Back then a huge riverboat coming to town was an exciting attraction. Americans today, by contrast, get all excited over the shenanigans of some celebrity.

  • Dianne Foster (Hannah) is a beautiful redhead. One wonders how a woman like this would stay single very long on the frontier.

  • The whip fight with Matthau is great. Lancaster is almost whipped to shreds (!).

  • Loyalty is a sub-theme here. Eli's son is loyal to Hannah and never warms up to the schoolmarm, although there's it's clear that there's nothing wrong with the latter. And Hannah is loyal to the man who delivered her from bondage (Eli), despite his infatuation with the marm.

  • I liked the bit on Eli being a laughing stock because of a worthless freshwater pearl, but he gets the last laugh with a letter from the President (or is it?) and additional help.

  • Lastly, Lancaster is a likable protagonist with his charismatic joy-of-living persona; he's humble and respectful, the antithesis of Eastwood's amoral and lifeless 'man with no name' a decade later.

The film runs an hour and 44 minutes.

BOTTOM LINE: "The Kentuckian" is breath of fresh air and I enjoyed it from beginning to end for all the above reasons; it's sort of like "The Last of the Mohicans" (1992) of its era, albeit no where as good. It's innocuous and easy-going, but sometimes surprisingly brutal (the dog fight and whip fight). If you can acclimate to the style of filmmaking of the mid-50s it's worth checking out.


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