Alvarez Kelly


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.


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.


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?


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!”


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


One thought on “Alvarez Kelly

  1. I was almost ready to turn it off with that opening song! Kind of a combo War/Cowboy/Buddy picture. Based on a true incident? Huh!

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