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A Good Period Piece
mvickio1414 November 2007
Warning: 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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For Burt Fans, Isn't everyone?
alydar2124 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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Burt Lancaster stars and directs himself in minor western...
Neil Doyle17 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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the showdown: one with a whip, the other unarmed.
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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When A Wakefield Meets A Fromes
bkoganbing5 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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Burt Lancaster's Eastern Frontier flick
Wuchak9 December 2014
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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Who Dast? Who Dast?! (who dares/darest)
cryofan-222 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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Superb Depiction Of A Forgotten Era
louis-king6 November 2007
Warning: 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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Interesting slice of Americana
rsgre29 August 2005
Warning: 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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Take life in big bites...
rgmcnabb28 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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Not a bad yarn
mozli21 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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Well, I liked that it was so different...
MartinHafer25 April 2010
I think one of the worst problems with American films from the 1930s-1950s is that way too many Westerns were made. Part of the problem that plot-wise, most are very, very derivative--with the same basic plot being rehashed yet again (if I see one more Western about rich guy who runs the town and is trying to force all the farmers/ranchers/sheep herders to sell out to him, I'm gonna puke). Because of this, I love films that talk about American history that are unusual--not Westerns or war films--just something different. This film is about life 'out west' (in the Tennessee area) circa 1820--a period WAAAY underrepresented in American films...heck, it's hardly ever even mentioned! So, from the onset, I was pretty happy about the setting of this film.

Burt Lancaster plays an outdoorsman--sort of a Davy Crockett or Daniel Boone sort of fellow. The main difference is that he also has a young son AND doesn't want to abandon him (Crockett and Boone should have taken note NOT to do this). The problem, however, is money. He and his son love the carefree outdoor life--but it takes money to get to this promised land. In the meantime, the two are forced to hang around civilization (at least what approximated it out on the frontier). Here in town, Lancaster's brother (played by John McIntyre--a guy who looked nothing like Burt and seemed too old for the part) pushed for him to go into business with him--and get rid of his buckskin clothes and settle down. In addition, two women wanted him--the school teacher (who represented domesticity) and the indentured servant (who believed in his dream). What will happen? Will Burt and son become domesticated and civilized or will they eventually make it to the wide open lands of Texas? Overall, this is not one of Burt Lancaster's best acting performances. He's good--but also pretty unremarkable. But, the film is different and reasonably well made--and it's hard to dismiss it. A nice film, at least from a history teacher's perspective, and well worth seeing.
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A Great Actor- Not a Great Director
James Hitchcock21 August 2009
Although "The Kentuckian" is sometimes described as a Western, it is set several decades earlier and a long way further east than most films in the genre. It may seem obvious that first the East and then the Midwest had to be won before Americans could make a start on winning the West, but in fact there are relatively few films about frontier life in the early nineteenth century compared with the thousands set in the West during the second half of that century. The explanation I have heard is that the Hollywood studios had on their doorstep the California deserts which could easily represent Texas, or Nevada, or any one of several other Western states without too many people noticing, but nowhere that could convincingly stand in for the deciduous forests of the eastern USA in the same way.

The action can be dated (by references to the Presidency of James Monroe) to the period 1817-25, and takes place in Kentucky. (This does not necessarily follow from the title. "The Virginian", after all, did not take place in Virginia). The main character is Elias "Big Eli" Wakefield, a widowed frontiersman who is considering leaving the state and moving to Texas. His reason for leaving, apparently, is that Kentucky is becoming "too crowded", even though in 1820 the state only had about half a million people spread over its 40,000 square miles. One thing that is never mentioned in the film is that at this period Texas would have been ruled by either Spain or Mexico; perhaps it would have been considered unpatriotic to have stated explicitly that Wakefield is considering emigrating from the USA to a foreign land.

Urging Big Eli to leave is his son "Little Eli", who is looking forward to a life of adventure in Texas. Urging him to stay is his elder brother Zack, who hopes that Eli will settle down in Kentucky and join him in his business. A further complication is that two women take a liking to Big Eli, indentured servant Hannah who wants to go to Texas to escape from her villainous master Stan Bodine and schoolteacher Susie who wants to stay in Kentucky.

Burt Lancaster, who also directed, also stars as Big Eli, but this is not one of his better performances. Indeed, most of the acting is not very good. Dianne Foster as Hannah and Diana Lynn as Susie are both dull, and Donald MacDonald as Little Eli, with his whiny voice and perpetually sulky expression, must rank as one of the least appealing screen youngsters ever. Probably the best is Walter Matthau (in his first feature film) as Bodine, played as an American version, complete with moustache and bullwhip, of the villainous Squire Jasper from a Victorian melodrama.

This film was Burt Lancaster's first experience of directing; indeed, it was the only film on which he acted as sole director. (He was also credited as joint director of "The Midnight Man", made nearly twenty years later). I have often wondered what attracted him to this story. In his later career he was often drawn to complex, socially significant movies, often ones with a message in line with his own left-wing convictions. There is nothing, however, complex or significant about "The Kentuckian", a film with a turgid plot taken from an obscure novel. The gist of the story is Big Eli's indecision about whether he should move house or stay put, and even the most experienced and gifted of directors would have struggled to make that particular plot line interesting. There is very little apart from its setting to distinguish this film from dozens of standard Western B-movies. The one good about the film is that the experience clearly persuaded Lancaster that his future in the film industry lay in the field of acting rather than directing, and as a result we were not deprived of all the wonderful performances he was to give over the next three decades. 4/10
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Well, maybe a B+...
SayRayJ16 December 2006
A mix of 50's sensibilities and period art the way they could only do it in the 1950s. Lancaster is stiff at times, but shines in the riverboat scene and of course handles the on screen fights pretty well. A.B. Guthrie Jr. knows what to put in a frontier story, and Matthau, McIntire and Carradine act rings around the rest of a fairly lackluster cast. The part of the boy isn't well-directed, and only manages to be a fairly sympathetic character. Both Foster and Lynn seemed miscast... Foster was too elegant for the indentured servant role and the Lynn character weak for a frontier schoolmistress. But the story holds together and is worth the watch for fans of Matthau, Lancaster, or the genre of offbeat 50's westerns. Watch for almost a dozen 'stock' cowboy figures from that era popping in and out of scenes, like James Griffith as a perfectly evil riverboat gambler.
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on location in Kentucky
bob_burger28 December 2007
I had to see this movie which I thoroughly enjoyed but more so for the scene that would be in there. A very brief scene of what is known locally as sky bridge. It is a natural rock formation of short span (a bridge) not too far from Natural Bridge State Park. At this site you walk beyond the bridge to a trail, take a right to trail two; another right and twenty five yards or so you are under sky bridge. From the first short trail to the second there is a drop of about 4-5 feet. At that point the second trail isn't all that wide and you have to be somewhat careful. Beyond the edge of the trail you see tops of trees. Tall trees. While helping my girlfriend down, I saw this guy approaching wearing sweat pants and sweater, dark sunglasses, and a smile. He had a mop of unruly hair. We continued on toward the bridge and I looked back. He didn't pause at the trail junction, he just jumped. Like a cat. As he approached after that athletic move and with a big grin and square jaw I knew; I just knew. I told my girlfriend who that was following us and as he passed she asked him..."are you Burt Lancaster?" He said "yes I am", and ambled on by. She swooned. He and two other Hollywood types did some thumbs together, form a square, "panning", looking at the sky at times. An interesting day out.
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Not a masterpiece, but special moments
Michael30 July 2005
This picture shows Burt Lancaster was a much better actor than a director. After "The Kentuckian" he never tried directing again - a decision good for him and much better for the audience. The direction is lazy and slow-going, the script disappointing (I wonder that A.B. Guthrie, the writer of brilliant old-west-novels, didn't make a better job). The photography is good, the landscapes are great and few actors are fine, for example Walter Matthau as slimy bad guy. There are two special moments in the picture you surely will not forget: The bull-whip-fight between Matthau and Lancaster is exciting and the showdown, when Burt is running fast across the river while his enemy tries to load his rifle, is very different to other western-shootouts. This scenes will compensate viewers for foregoing boredom. I give five out of ten stars.
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Lyrical and picturesque historical family drama
Neil Welch14 July 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Woodsman Eli Wakefield and his son Little Eli look to journey from Kentucky to Texas in the 1800s. In the course of their travels, their paths cross with those of an indentured servant girl, a school teacher, a corrupt local lawman and a bullwhip-wielding bully.

This film, which is notable for the debuts of Walter Matthau (acting) and Lancaster (as director), tells its relatively slight tale in a gentle and leisurely manner. The moments of drama are well done but infrequent, and interspersed with rather too many scenes of Big Eli looking besottedly at his son (played rather badly by a young actor called Donald McDonald who spends most of the film wearing an expression like a tormented ferret).

The strengths of this film are the portrayal of 18th century rural Kentucky, the gorgeous scenery, Lancaster's good-natured but earnest performance and Bernard Herrman's music.
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Indiana Matthau!
C.K. Dexter Haven8 December 2001
Burt Lancaster's first and only directorial effort is a pretty routine vehicle, worth seeing for Walter Matthau's film debut as Burt's nasty bullwhip cracking nemesis. The acting is pretty lacklustre, the script mediocre at best with not much plot or character development. Some nice scenery and a great old River Boat sequence pass the time, and it's fun to see Burt with long hair. But not a classic must see by any means. Kills a couple hours and Lancaster and Matthau fans will get the most out of it. Burt was famous for taking on challenging roles and picking insightful material, but here it's just a B frontier tale all the way.
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Lancaster is no Spielberg
Werner12 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
If this long and not very gripping tale of the very old west proves something, then certainly, that being a good actor is not necessarily the fundamental for being a good director or a good selector of scripts. This tale of father and son starts reasonably good, but never really takes off to what it could have been. Lancaster is a little wooden, as if he had to often looked for nowhere to get directorial guidance and the rest of the cast also does not really shine. Best things : Walter Matthau in his screen debut, alternating between Matinée hero with reasonably good vocal efforts (dubbed or not, i don't know) and Sado-Maso whipper with a gay sub tone and Lancaster in the climax going the distance over a river ford, while his enemies desperately try to be ready. At a vote of 5, there should be better things found to do than watching this.
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Cracking Western
gavin694225 September 2017
A Kentucky widower (Burt Lancaster) bound for 1820s Texas with his young son (Donald MacDonald) is thwarted in his efforts by a corrupt constable (Rhys Williams), a long-standing family feud, and a beautiful indentured servant (Dianne Foster).

Big Eli has to deal with the villainous Stan Bodine (Walter Matthau), who cracks a bullwhip. This is crucial in retrospect because it marked the film debut of Matthau, who is probably more familiar to audiences today (2017) than Lancaster is. Obviously Lancaster is the bigger star in the grand scheme of things, but that is not how time and fame works.

Also of note, the movie also features an appearance by the famed sternwheel riverboat Gordon C. Greene, the same steamboat used in "Gone with the Wind" and "Steamboat Round the Bend".
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Texas-bound Kentuckian Burt gets sidetracted along the way.
weezeralfalfa27 February 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Burt Lancaster, as Kentucky frontiersman Elias Wakefield, has at least 3 particularly heart-pounding encounters in his quest to escape the traditional feuds between the Wakefields and Fromes by migrating to the Spanish-Mexican territory of Texas. In the first of these encounters, Burt has to fight off half a dozen towns people, who eventually subdue him and lock him in a makeshift jail until deciding what to do with him....In the second, Burt has to fight, without any weapons or protection , the bull-whip-wielding town tavern keeper and bully Stan Bodine, played by Walter Matthau, in his initial Hollywood role: quite a scene!....In the third encounter, Burt again finds himself defenseless on one side of a river against 2 rifle-toting Fromes on the opposite bank. He gets some essential help from bondswoman Hannah, in back of the Fromes, who takes aim with the rifle of her freshly-killed master: Bodine. With only one Frome to deal with now, he takes his chance, dashing across the very shallow river before his nemesis can reload.

Lancaster has dealings with 2 women in particular. Hannah, who begins her association with Burt and his half-grown son as a bondswoman, who takes pity on them when the towns people turn hostile toward them. In return, Burt uses his money for steamboat passage to Texas to buy out her bondswoman contract. Hannah decides to leave this town with the Wakefields when they break out of jail. They head for another village where lives brother Zack, who's making a living as a tobacco grower and trader. Zack welcomes the 3, giving Burt odd jobs toward regaining his funds for the Texas trip. Early on, Burt thinks he may have found his fortune in a sizable pearl found in a mussel. The locals encourage him to inquire whether President Monroe might be interested in such, knowing it's worthless commercially. Eventually, Hannah sells herself as a bondswoman to tavern-keeper Bodine, to provide money for the Wakefield's journey onward. Meanwhile, Burt has taken a fancy to the village schoolteacher, Susie, and she to him. Brother Zack encourages him to forget his Texas dream and settle down in that village with Susie, who has no desire to go to Texas. Burt swallows this bait for a while, but the captain of the Texas steamer tries to convince him that he's a natural frontiersman, not psychologically suited to planting his feet in a settled village. Besides, he's not yet out of the range of the two murderous Fromes, who eventually show up, as I previously detailed. This, coupled with Hannah's heroics against the Fromes, and the death of her master, causes Burt to rethink his life plans.

This little-known "western" certainly rates a look, with many details I didn't mention. It's currently available at YouTube.
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A strong frontiersman bucks the odds.
Michael O'Keefe19 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Burt Lancaster directs and stars in this action packed western. Its the 1820's and rugged frontiersman Big Eli Wakefield(Lancaster)finds his old Kentucky stomping grounds are becoming too tame; so he heads to wide open Texas with his young son Little Eli(Donald MacDonald). A new beginning and new lifestyle does not come easy for the the Kentuckian. Adventure, history and romance mixed with some humor makes for a very entertaining family film. Beautiful scenery; and my favorite sequence is the brutal fight between Lancaster and a whip-wielding Walter Matthau.

THE KENTUCKIAN is based on a novel by Felix Holt and is briskly paced making it so easy to watch. Others featured in the cast: Dianne Foster, John McIntire, Una Merkel and John Carradine.
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Burt Makes Family Movie.
Robert J. Maxwell2 January 2015
Warning: Spoilers
It's 1820 in Kentucky. James Monroe is president, and Burt Lancaster is a freedom-loving woodsman who takes his son, MacDonald, and heads for the river town where they will say hello to Lancaster's big brother, McIntire and his wife, Una Merkel. Along the way they pick up a young lady, Foster, and meet a friendly school teacher, Lynn.

Well, while they's a-waiting' for the river steamer, ol' Burt soon has two wimmen a-moonin' after him -- one a indentured servant gal and the other a purty school ma'rm a-looking for a husband to go with her house. I shore hope I spelled "indentured" wright. Don't know what it means though. Maybe it means she got all her teeth. Sounds good for ol' Burt but it ain't so hot. I oncet had FIVE gals a-moonin' after ME and they was all purty too. Well, we done heard the chimes at midnight more'n oncet, and one night when we was pie-eyed there was all SIX of us, a-baying at the moon like Burt's huntin' dog, Pharaoh. The voices tell me to do things like this.

The problem is that Burt has spent all their "Texas money" to free Foster from bondage. Now he has to go to work for his brother McIntire, and his boy has to go to school and learn something. "I'll turn him into a businessman," says well-meaning McIntire, "and I'll wear that buckskin right off him and OUT of him." This is not Burt's idea of a good time. He likes to lie out in the woods with his boy on a "prime night" and chase a fox or two with Pharaoh. ("The unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible.")

The two of them yearn for the open skies of Texas where the air "tastes like it's never been breathed before." Aside from not having any money, there's another problem or two that need facing. Kentucky is a country of feuding clans and one scabrous clan is on Burt's tail. Another is the local mean guy who runs a saloon and wields a great big whip -- Walter Matthau, if you can believe it. On top of that, McIntire's wife begins to scold them for their backwood ways. She kicks the dog off the couch and nags Burt and his boy, which is beginning to sound painfully like my marriage.

Two outstanding scenes for a warm and ordinary family movie: Burt and son playing rich hicks for riverboat gamblers and then turning the roulette wheel on them; a really NASTY fight between the sadistic and dirty-fighting Matthau and the proud and indefatigable Burt. Burt is whipped to tatters but guess who is knocked out.

Very nice photography by Ernest Lazslo and a subtle score without a whistleable tune in it from Bernard Herrmann. Burt's direction is functional without being distinctive. It's not a bad movie. It's a warm, family drama with a little romance and violence to spice it up.
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Looked and sounded more like earlier Walter Disney film
BasicLogic11 December 2017
This film somehow gives me a lame feeling about the slow tempo of the screenplay, the soundtrack even a lit bit of annoying like all of the films in that era. Lancaster was so handsome in his prime. I like the dog, so smart and so cute. But I don't like the son character created in this film, more like and half-wit retard, just couldn't keep his mouth shut to get his father and the kind Hannah in trouble. The screenplay is too loose to keep the movie at a faster pace. Watching these kind of films with nowadays point of view, you really need patience to sit tight and watch along. All the bad guys in this film looked more like cartoon characters.
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Were going to Texas and were gonna live it bold!
kapelusznik1812 March 2014
Warning: Spoilers
***SPOILERS*** Burt Lancaster plays the David Crockett-like, without the coonskin hat, Big Elias Wakefield a Kentucky native who together with his son Little Eli, Donald McDonald, and pet dog Farrell plan to make their way to the wilds of Mexican controlled Texas to start a new life. On their way their Elias ends up falling in love with two women indentured servant Hannah, Dianne Foster, and school teacher Susie, Diana Lynn, that divides his loyalties not just between the two ladies but territories, Kentucky & Texas, as well. While on his way to Texas both Elias and Little Eli start to distance themselves in that Papa Elias has second thoughts of going to Texas feeling right at home in Kentucky getting a job as a tobacco salesman for his big brother Zack, John MacIntire, and romancing Susie which makes little Eli a bit confused and mad at Papa. Changing his mind after making it up is something that Papa Elias isn't used to doing.

The film later has the villain in it Stan "Whippie" Bodine, Walter Matthau in his debut role, who in trying to put Elias in his place, in him becoming the big man in town, tries to take him out with his bull-whip only to get, with Hannah's help, himself battered unconscious by him. There's also the notorious Frome brothers, Douglas Spencer & Paul Wexler, who have a long standing blood feud, like the Hatfields & McCoys, with the Wakefields who in joining up with Bodine plan to whack him. It's Elias, or Burt Lancasters, brilliant track & field running that prevents the Fromes from doing it by beating them to their muskets that they have a hard time, after first firing them, loading them.

Burt's first of two movies that he directed, the last was "The Midnight Man" in 1974, that seems to have improved with age. In it he shows a unique sensitivity as well as courage that he later, in films like "The Swimmer" "Atlantic City" and "Field of Dreams", was to become famous for. He also doesn't hog the screen and gives his fellow actors more then enough time to develop their roles which really improved the film. Even villain Stan Bodine who despite his unlikeable character was given a chance to redeem himself by refusing to gun down Elias in cold blood who ended up getting murdered, by the Frome Brothers, instead!
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