The Kentuckian (1955)

103-104 mins | Western | August 1955

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HISTORY

The working title of this film was The Gabriel Horn . In Aug 1954, LAT reported that permission to use the title The Kentuckian was granted to the filmmakers by the governor of Kentucky. The title cards of the picture read: “United Artists presents Photographed in CinemaScope Burt Lancaster as The Kentuckian .” As noted by publicity information contained in the film's file at the AMPAS Library, the picture was produced by "the Hecht-Lancaster Organization, under its banner, James Productions." The Kentuckian was James Productions' first and only film.
       In Apr 1954, a LAT news item noted that Lancaster was hoping to cast Brandon de Wilde as “Little Eli Wakefield” and Jane Wyman as “Susie Spann.” According to Jul 1954 HR news items, Constance Smith was tested for a co-starring role, and Lancaster and producer Harold Hecht considered casting Kim Novak. Dianne Foster was borrowed from Columbia for the production. According to a 27 Oct 1954 ^HR news item, Ian Keith had been cast in the picture, but left the production because of an ulcer. HR news items include Burt Mustin in the cast, but his appearance in the released film has not been confirmed.
       Although an Apr 1954 HR news item stated that the picture would be shot on location in North Carolina, the majority of the film was shot in Kentucky and Indiana. Studio publicity lists the Kentucky location sites as the Cumberland Falls area, the Levi Jackson Wilderness State Park near London, Owensboro and Green River, and the Indiana site as the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Village near Rockport. ... More Less

The working title of this film was The Gabriel Horn . In Aug 1954, LAT reported that permission to use the title The Kentuckian was granted to the filmmakers by the governor of Kentucky. The title cards of the picture read: “United Artists presents Photographed in CinemaScope Burt Lancaster as The Kentuckian .” As noted by publicity information contained in the film's file at the AMPAS Library, the picture was produced by "the Hecht-Lancaster Organization, under its banner, James Productions." The Kentuckian was James Productions' first and only film.
       In Apr 1954, a LAT news item noted that Lancaster was hoping to cast Brandon de Wilde as “Little Eli Wakefield” and Jane Wyman as “Susie Spann.” According to Jul 1954 HR news items, Constance Smith was tested for a co-starring role, and Lancaster and producer Harold Hecht considered casting Kim Novak. Dianne Foster was borrowed from Columbia for the production. According to a 27 Oct 1954 ^HR news item, Ian Keith had been cast in the picture, but left the production because of an ulcer. HR news items include Burt Mustin in the cast, but his appearance in the released film has not been confirmed.
       Although an Apr 1954 HR news item stated that the picture would be shot on location in North Carolina, the majority of the film was shot in Kentucky and Indiana. Studio publicity lists the Kentucky location sites as the Cumberland Falls area, the Levi Jackson Wilderness State Park near London, Owensboro and Green River, and the Indiana site as the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Village near Rockport. A 30 Aug 1954 HR news item announced that the song “They Say, They Say,” written by Dave Denner and Bill Neavin, had been purchased for the picture, but it was not heard in the viewed print. According to an Oct 1954 HR news item, Roy Webb was originally signed as the film’s music director.
       According to a Nov 1954 HR news item, 100 percent of the financing for the production was supplied by United Artists. The Kentuckian marked the screen acting debut of Walter Matthau and the directorial debut of Lancaster. According to a 2 Oct 1954 NYT article, Lancaster applied for membership in the Screen Directors Guild in Aug 1954 but was rejected “because he allegedly had expressed opinions about directors regarded as uncomplimentary by the organization.” The guild granted Lancaster a waiver to allow him to direct the film and invited him to reapply after it was completed. The only other picture ever directed by Lancaster was the 1974 production The Midnight Man , which he co-directed with Roland Kibbee.
       In order to publicize The Kentuckian , noted American artist Thomas Hart Benton painted a seven-foot portrait of Lancaster, Donald MacDonald and “Faro,” which Lancaster donated to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1978. The Los Angeles premiere of The Kentuckian was a benefit for the Multiple Sclerosis Society, and the picture was entered in the 1955 Venice Film Festival. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Beverly Hills NewsLife
15 Aug 1955.
---
Box Office
16 Jul 1955.
---
Daily Variety
13 Jul 55
p. 3.
Film Daily
15 Jul 55
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Apr 1954
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Jun 1954
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Jun 1954
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Jul 1954
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Jul 1954
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Aug 1954
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Aug 1954
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Aug 1954
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Aug 1954
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Aug 1954
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Aug 1954
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Aug 1954
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Aug 1954
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Aug 1954
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Aug 1954
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Sep 1954
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Oct 1954
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Oct 1954
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Oct 1954
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Oct 1954
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Oct 1954
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Oct 1954
p. 17.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Oct 1954
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Nov 1954
p. 1, 4.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Feb 1955
p. 22.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Apr 1955
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Apr 1955
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Jul 1955
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Jul 55
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Jul 1955
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Jul 1955
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Jul 1955
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Aug 1955
pp. 8-13.
Los Angeles Examiner
5 Sep 1955.
---
Los Angeles Times
2 Apr 1954.
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Los Angeles Times
26 Aug 1954.
---
Los Angeles Times
4 Aug 1955.
---
Los Angeles Times
11 Aug 1955.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
16 Jul 55
p. 513.
New York Times
8 Feb 1954.
---
New York Times
2 Oct 1954.
---
New York Times
14 Nov 1954.
---
New York Times
2 Sep 55
p. 13.
New Yorker
10 Sep 1955.
---
Newsweek
8 Aug 1955.
---
Variety
13 Jul 55
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
Dial dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Photog
ART DIRECTOR
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Props
COSTUMES
Cost
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Eff ed
DANCE
Dance dir
MAKEUP
Hair styles
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Casting supv
Prod exec
Walter Matthau's bullwhip instructor
STAND INS
Burt Lancaster's stand-in
Walter Matthau's stunt double
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Gabriel Horn by Felix Holt (New York, 1951).
AUTHOR
SONGS
"The Kentuckian Song," "The Promised Land," "I See My Darlin'" and "Possum up a Gum Tree," music and lyrics by Irving Gordon.
COMPOSER
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
The Gabriel Horn
Release Date:
August 1955
Premiere Information:
World premiere in Chicago, IL: 22 July 1955
Los Angeles premiere: 10 August 1955
Production Date:
23 August--late October 1954
Copyright Claimant:
James Productions, Inc.
Copyright Date:
22 July 1955
Copyright Number:
LP5848
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Color
Widescreen/ratio
CinemaScope
Lenses/Prints
print by Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
103-104
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
17202
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1820, widower Big Eli Wakefield is leaving Kentucky with his young son, Little Eli, and their dog, Faro, to escape from the feud between the Wakefields and the Fromeses. Little Eli’s most prized possession is his father’s hunting horn, which Eli promises he will be able to blow when he is “growed.” One day, while on their way to Humility to catch the steamship to Texas, the pair stops in Prideville, where the constable sics his dog on Faro. When Eli prevents the constable from shooting the triumphant Faro, he is thrown in jail, and tavern worker Hannah Bolen tends to Little Eli. That night, Hannah explains to Little Eli that she is an indentured servant, or “bond girl,” and listens wistfully as Little Eli relates his dreams of freedom in Texas. When Hannah overhears the constable trying to wheedle money from the Fromes brothers in exchange for allowing them to kill Eli, she steals the jail keys and, after freeing Eli, camps in the woods with the Wakefields. They are soon found, however, and Decker, to whom Hannah is bound, accuses Eli of stealing her. Outraged that the kindly Hannah is indentured, Eli uses the money he has saved to buy her freedom. Little Eli agrees with the decision, and soon the trio reaches Humility, where they are greeted by Eli’s prosperous brother Zack and his wife Sophie, who hope to convince the rustic Eli to settle down. To prevent Eli from earning enough money for boat fare, Zack suggests that he fish for mussels, knowing that Eli will never make a profit. When Eli and Little Eli find a large freshwater pearl one day, Eli shows ... +


In 1820, widower Big Eli Wakefield is leaving Kentucky with his young son, Little Eli, and their dog, Faro, to escape from the feud between the Wakefields and the Fromeses. Little Eli’s most prized possession is his father’s hunting horn, which Eli promises he will be able to blow when he is “growed.” One day, while on their way to Humility to catch the steamship to Texas, the pair stops in Prideville, where the constable sics his dog on Faro. When Eli prevents the constable from shooting the triumphant Faro, he is thrown in jail, and tavern worker Hannah Bolen tends to Little Eli. That night, Hannah explains to Little Eli that she is an indentured servant, or “bond girl,” and listens wistfully as Little Eli relates his dreams of freedom in Texas. When Hannah overhears the constable trying to wheedle money from the Fromes brothers in exchange for allowing them to kill Eli, she steals the jail keys and, after freeing Eli, camps in the woods with the Wakefields. They are soon found, however, and Decker, to whom Hannah is bound, accuses Eli of stealing her. Outraged that the kindly Hannah is indentured, Eli uses the money he has saved to buy her freedom. Little Eli agrees with the decision, and soon the trio reaches Humility, where they are greeted by Eli’s prosperous brother Zack and his wife Sophie, who hope to convince the rustic Eli to settle down. To prevent Eli from earning enough money for boat fare, Zack suggests that he fish for mussels, knowing that Eli will never make a profit. When Eli and Little Eli find a large freshwater pearl one day, Eli shows it to Zybee Fletcher, a garrulous medicine show man. Fletcher and tavern owner Stan Bodine, who despises Eli, convince him that the pearl is valuable and should be offered to President James Monroe. After the naïve Eli leaves, everyone roars with laughter, as freshwater pearls are worthless. That night, Eli and Little Eli begin a letter to the president, but are interrupted by the arrival of Susie Spann, the town’s schoolteacher, to whom Eli is attracted. The next day, Eli mails the pearl to the president, and Bodine and Fletcher tell him about their hoax. Infuriated, Elis is about to beat Fletcher when Zack stops him, and later, Little Eli is teased by the other school children about his father’s naïveté. While Zack tutors Eli about business matters, Eli thanks him for his help and wonders if he and his son will ever adapt to town life. At the schoolhouse, Little Eli is being bullied by Luke Lester when he hears the whistle of the Texas-bound steamboat and bolts from the room. The other children follow, as do most of the adults, and they are treated to a minstrel show and a speech by Pleasant Tuesday Babson, the leader of the Texas expedition. At dinner that night, Zack and Sophie reprimand Eli and his son for leaving work and school, and an embittered Little Eli shouts that he hates living in Humility. Realizing that he has been ignoring his son, Eli promises to take him hunting if he apologizes to Susie for disrupting class, and the next day, after Little Eli apologizes, Susie invites Eli to dinner. Eli accepts, but later forgets and instead takes Little Eli hunting. They are joined by Hannah, who tries to repay Eli the money he spent to free her. Eli realizes that Hannah obtained the money by selling herself into servitude to Bodine, and insists that she tear up her contract. Hannah pleads with him to remember his dreams of Texas, but when Eli suddenly recalls his date with Susie, he abruptly leaves. Eli arrives at Susie’s house late, but she forgives him and accepts a kiss. Later, when the mail is delivered, the townsfolk are astonished to see that Eli has received a response from Washington, D.C. Eli intimates that the letter contains money then swaggers out, but when he and Little Eli open the missive, they find that it is a polite rejection from a secretary. Still desperate to show Bodine that he has succeeded, Eli, at Zack's behest, travels to a nearby bank to withdraw money for tobacco-buying season. Little Eli accompanies his father, and on the boat ride back, Eli outwits some gamblers and wins at roulette. Soon after, Eli, clothed in a suit instead of his customary buckskin, enters the tavern. Hannah is disheartened when Zack announces that Eli is going into business with him, and Bodine is angered when Eli boasts about receiving money from the president. Later, desiring revenge, Bodine encourages Luke to fight with Little Eli, and when Eli arrives to stop them, Bodine strikes him with his bullwhip. Unable to get close enough to disarm Bodine, Eli receives many vicious cuts, until Hannah rolls a wheel wagon onto the whip, and Eli is able to beat him fairly. That night, after Eli and Susie inform Little Eli that they are engaged and will be living in Humility, the heartbroken boy accuses his father of lying to him about Texas. Eli orders his son to bury their hunting horn, so that it will not remind them of their former life, but instead Little Eli manages to blow the horn and runs away. Crying, Susie confesses to Eli that she will never be able to be the kind of adventure-seeking wife that he needs. While searching for Hannah, Little Eli goes to Bodine’s still house, where he finds Bodine with the Fromes brothers. The Fromeses hold Hannah and Little Eli hostage, and the next day, Eli, accompanied by Babson, goes to the still after unsuccessfully searching the town for them. As they walk, Babson offers to make Eli his lieutenant in the Texas expedition, and urges him to follow his heart. When Eli approaches the cabin, the Fromeses order Bodine to shoot Babson, and when he refuses, they kill him. One of the brothers then kills Babson, but the other is shot dead by Hannah, who has grabbed Bodine’s gun. While the remaining brother reloads his rifle, Eli charges him, reaching him before he re-arms. After a fierce struggle, Eli kills the man, and a relieved Little Eli throws himself into his father’s arms. Hannah starts to walk away, but Eli urges her to come to Texas with them, telling her that from now on, they are going to “live it bold.” +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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