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Produced and directed by star Burt Lancaster, The Kentuckian is a leisurely western occasionally punctuated by spurts of startling brutality. The recently widowed Lancaster heads towards Texas with his son Donald McDonald. Most of the folks he meets, notably winsome schoolmarm Diana Lynn, bondslave Dianne Foster, and Lancaster's down-to-earth brother John McIntyre and sister-in-law Una Merkel, are pretty good souls, despite the raging family feud that motivates the plotline. The same cannot be said of whip-wielding ...

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Apr 20, 2020

The Kentuckian

This 1955 film features Bert Lancaster as Elias Wakefield, a Kentucky mountain man in the 1820s with a yearn to travel to Texas to begin a new life. Lancaster also directed the film. A widower, Wakefield has a young son who is following in his footsteps as a hunter and mountain man. Wakefield is being pursued by two other mountaineers as a result of a longstanding family feud. He arrives in a small Kentucky town where his brother owns a successful tobacco trading store. Wakefield and his son are ridiculed for their dress and for their rural ways. In the film Wakefield eventually must choose between following his initial dream and travelling to Texas or staying in Kentucky in a business partnership with his brother. He also must choose between two women, Hannah (Dianne Foster) an indentured servant and Susie (Diana Lynn), a schoolteacher and a pianist.

I wanted to see this film because the screenplay was written by A.B. Guthrie, jr, a famed western novelist who wrote "The Big Sky" and "The Way West" and also wrote the screenplay for "Shane". "The Kentuckian" is far less known than its famous predecessor. But I enjoyed Guthrie's script, which is adopted from a novel "The Gabriel Horn" by Felix Holt. The horn becomes a symbol of manhood in the movie.

The film also brought back memories for me. My wife grew up in the rural area of Kentucky in which this film takes place, and we many years ago we traveled to the Kentucky park where the film was shot for a vacation. I still had a memory of the places shown in the film.

"The Kentuckian" is a simple, sentimental film about making choices about the direction one wishes to go in life. The film includes beautiful cinematography of Kentucky forests and a small Kentucky town. The film also features an old Mississippi Riverboat together with colorful characters including the boat's captain, and flamboyantly crooked riverboat gamblers. Back on shore, Wakefield must contend with a sadistic whip wielding villain, played by Walther Mathau in his film debut, a fast-talking snake-oil salesman, and the two members of the rival mountain family who are out to kill.

This is a unpretentious, lovely movie which, with its violence, teaches the importance of finding and following one's own star. I enjoyed thinking about A.B. Guthrie again and seeing his work on this film. I also enjoyed thinking about Kentucky again and the trip I took to the site of this movie many years ago.

Robin Friedman

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