ALVAREZ KELLY–—uneven, synthetic 1966 Civil War tale, based on the ‘Beefsteak Raid’, an incident that Lincoln called “the slickest piece of cattle stealing I ever heard of.” William Holden saunters through the title role, as a well-groomed rascal contracted to deliver 2,500 cattle to the Union. Sidetracked, he’s forced to work for the Rebs, led by an eye-patched Richard Widmark, complete with a not-too-convincing Southern drawl.
Too much dawdling and b.s. slows the 116-minute story down, including a teasing side-trip to a well-staffed brothel that’s closer to a poolside writers huddle than anything going down in the Richmond of 1864.
Janice Rule is her usual provocative self, Patrick O’Neal very good as a stymied Yankee after the abducted herd. Richard Rust makes an impression as one of Widmark’s dog-mean lieutenants—his death scene is a terrific example of a willing actor making the most of getting shot.
Apart from the obvious insertion of some process shots later in the film, Joseph MacDonald’s camerawork is decent, a facet of technical crispness that highlights the Louisiana locations as well as showing up the over-tailored costumes whipped together by the wardrobe department. Concludes with a lengthy cattle stampede—ever see a trail drive flick without one?
Sloppily directed by Edward Dmytryk. Who was in charge of those century-off hairstyles on the belles and courtesans? Awful title song from John Green and Johnny Mercer sung by The Brothers Four is one of the worst of the 60s. “Wherever he stopped/the gals kept droppin’ like flies..” is a hard lyric to beat, but then the subpar script offers up “Cattle are like women: sometimes you have to be firm with them, sometimes gentle, and sometimes they need a slap on the rump.” Safe to say, today rafters would ring with protest and wide audience appeal would not materialize. It didn’t upon release, either, as the film bombed, cow-flopping on spot #82 of the year’s money draws, the $3,500,000 gross not doing the then-flickering careers of Holden or Widmark any favor. They did become good friends during the shoot, which had its problems before it ever rolled out: Widmark got pneumonia and then Holden contracted salmonella, setting the production back for months. There’s a famous story that had a hung-over Holden, irked by the crummy script and a mount that was uncooperative, shoving his copy at the ass of the horse, snapping to Dmytryk “that’s where it belongs!”
Holden was familiar with the sultry locations, having made a decent Civil War movie there, 1959s The Horse Soldiers, done by a director who, even at half-speed, could eat Dmytryk for lunch: John Ford.
With Roger C. Carmel (laying on a Scots accent, plastered with a phony beard), Donald Barry, Victoria Shaw, Duke Hobbie, Harry Carey Jr., Howard Caine, Barry Atwater, Indus Arthur, Arthur Franz, Clint Ritchie and Scatman Crothers.