Kentuckian, The (1955 with Burt Lancaster and Walter Matthau)

USA / 1955

Director: Burt Lancaster
Writer:A B Guthrie, adapted from the novel, The Gabriel Horn, by Felix Holt.

Cast: Burt Lancaster, Dianne Foster, Walter Matthau, Diana Lynn, John Carradine, John McIntire, Una Merkel, Donald MacDonald

Directorial debut by the actor who started his own acrobatic circus, received an Oscar for his performance in Elmer Gantry , and was one of the first studio actors to open an independent production company. Burt Lancaster’s only stint at directing came in this film, The Kentuckian , about a frontier man who moves to Texas with his son.

Unexpectedly, for a man better known for his fighting action, Lancaster’s direction reveals a more thoughtful side that concentrates on characters and relationships and, most importantly, the American pioneering dream. However, beautiful forces conspire to get in the way of this dream. Father and son (Donald MacDonald) encounter their first problem when they free an indentured girl (Dianne Foster) from a mean tavern keeper, and in the process lose their riverboat passage money. Then Lancaster meets a village schoolteacher (Diana Lynn) who echoes the advice of his brother (John McIntire) and sister-in-law (Una Merkel), and tempts him into settling down. Luckily, McDonald manages to set his father back on course with a little help from the resourceful Foster.

Those who feel that no Burt Lancaster movie is complete without a fight should take heart in the knowledge that a showdown does take place between the unarmed Lancaster and Walter Matthau in the latter’s finest, and bloodiest bullwhipping moment.

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