The Kentuckian at the IMDb
Burt Lancaster starred and directed this 1958 undemanding but overlong western.
He plays Big Eli, a frontiersman who feels civilisation has encroached too much onto his world and takes his son off on a quest to make a life in Texas where land is measured by your eye, not a rope and chain. Sadly this is easier said than done as low cost airlines are still some time away. Burt has saved up $215 to pay his passage and to secure some land. His boy is at the precocious age of being most annoying and Burt tells him he won’t be a man until he can blow a horn - don’t ask.
The pair soon encounter some small minded townsfolk who dislike Burt’s penchant for dog fighting. They slam him in the jail and he has to rely on a nice local lass for vitals. The girl, Hannah, is a kind of slave who is in servitude to her boss, who happens to be an abusive dick. She manages to free Burt, but his faithful dog leads the baddies to their campfire. Burt agrees to spend his whole bankroll on freeing the woman but even then still it seems cheap!
Burt arrives at his brother in law’s home and not surprisingly his hosts aren’t too impressed with his new purchase. The brother in law dislikes Burt’s lifestyle and presumably the coonskin cap he’s wearing, that no doubt stinks to high heaven. He tries to talk Burt out of his Texan dream and sets him up in a fancy suit and tries to teach him his tobacco selling business.
Burt however is more keen on Sophie, the local school teacher who is slightly hotter than Hannah but does come with the baggage of a crippled mother whom we only hear from up the stairs; and believe me she sounds a total nightmare. The boy however prefers Hannah and soon his own life is getting tougher as Dad’s mess ups cause him no end of high school hassles. Burt you see, has made a tit of himself as a freshwater pearl he found and sent to the President turns out to be worthless and send the whole town into fits of giggles.
Rather than lose face Burt decides to restore his bankroll and in an almost slapstick scene hustles some river boat gamblers by pretending to be a sucker with a large bag marked ‘$’. With his money now restored Burt has the choice of the ladies and of a life as a tobacco baron or as a Texan rancher. But wait! Walter Matthau and his handy whip may still have a part to play as will the boy’s horn.
This was an OK western but at approaching two hours it didn’t have enough meat on the bones to sustain the journey. Burt is a Daniel Boone type character rallying against the advancements society has made while he’s been rolling about in the dirt. His sage wisdom grated and his annoying son did nothing to help the viewer’s affections towards the pair. The women were mere chattels that Burt could pick and choose while they looked on with pathetic hopefulness. His big choice at the end was based on the burden of the mother in law more than the affection he felt for either woman, which makes him a stand up dude.
I did enjoy some aspects especially Walter Matthau’s character who was a sadistic bastard who was handy with the whip and the riverboat scene was good fun although totally out of kilter with the rest of the film.
All things considered the film wasn’t a hit but it did have enough elements to suggest a look if there’s nothing else on and your DVD player is broken.
THE Tag Line - Whip It Real Good