Alvarez Kelly

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ALVAREZ KELLYuneven, good-looking 1966 Civil War adventure, based on the ‘Beefsteak Raid’, an incident that Lincoln called “the slickest piece of cattle stealing I ever heard of.”  William Holden saunters tiredly through the title role, as a well-groomed rascal contracted to deliver 2,500 head of beeves 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.

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Janice Rule is her usual provocative self, Patrick O’Neal very good as a stymied Yankee after the abducted herd. Richard Rust makes a strong 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.

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Color is vivid (camera by Joseph MacDonald), a facet of technical crispness that highlights the movies Louisiana locations as well as showing up the over-tailored costumes whipped together by the wardrobe department. Concludes with a pretty decent cattle stampede—ever see a trail drive flick without one?

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Directed by Edward Dmytryk.  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 script offers “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, 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, which set the production back for months. There’s a famous story that had a hung-over Holden, irked by the script and a mount that was uncooperative, shoving it at the ass of his horse, snapping to Dmytryk “that’s where it belongs!”

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With Roger C. Carmel, Donald Barry, Arthur Franz, Victoria Shaw, Duke Hobbie, Harry Carey Jr., Howard Caine, Barry Atwater and Scatman Crothers.

MajorStedman

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