Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Fighting Kentuckian

The last time the Starz/Encore channels were offered in a free preview I had the chance to record The Fighting Kentuckian off of StarzEncore Westners. I wouldn't quite call it a western, but to be honest that's beside the point.

The movie has its genesis in a little-known part of American history. After the fall of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815, the US Congress offered a bunch of French who had supported Napoleon a land grant in southwestern Alabama that became the city of Demopolis. At the start of the movie, an army regiment that had fought with Andrew Jackson in New Orleans is in Mobile, about to begin the journey back to Kentucky after serving for five years. Among them is John Breen (John Wayne), who meets the lovely Fleurette (Vera Ralston). He falls in love with her, even though she's engaged to another man and he's going to have to leave to join his regiment commanded by Willie (Oliver Hardy, without Stan Laurel anywhere).

For whatever reason the Kentuckians can't go by river to get to Kentucky -- you'd think starting from New Orleans and going up the Mississippi would have made more sense, but whatever. So Breen makes certain they're going to go through Demopolis, so that he can meet Fleurette again. Her father is the former General De Marchand (Hugo Hass), while her fiancé is an American Blake (John Howard). Breen wants to stay to be near Fleurette, but a lot of people want him to leave, and have various reasons for wanting him out.

Part of it is that there's been a plot afoot to trick the poor French. Somebody moved the original surveying stakes, so where the French settled is in fact not on their land grant and, when that's discovered, they're going to have to move and pretty much start all over. Blake, for his part, sees that he's got a romantic rival and wants any rivals out of the picture. The General is at heart a good guy who would like his daughter to marry somebody she loves. But he also realizes he has to do what's best for the French colonists he's leading, and part of that is marrying his daughter off into well-to-do Americans who can help secure the colonists' future. Eventually Breen and Willie discover the surveying ruse, and vow to help the French defend their land.

There's a lot going on in The Fighting Kentuckian, and I have to admit that for me it added up to a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. It's not bad by any means; I just felt that it was a run of the mill John Wayne movie, the sort of thing that he could have churned out on an assembly line. Other movies followed the same formula and did it better, I thought. I also felt that the second-rate cast didn't help. Oliver Hardy is decidedly miscast, and his attempts at comic relief fell flat. There's also Marie Windsor as the other woman; while she could be a femme fatale, it doesn't work in a costume drama. Interestingly, Ralston and Haas were both Czechs playing French.

The Fighting Kentuckian is available on DVD at the TCM Shop, while all of the entries at Amazon claim there's only a limited number of copies available. However, they do seem to have it on streaming video. So watch and judge for yourself.

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