THE FIGHTING KENTUCKIAN —Sunday matinee western, actually more of a Southeastern, as it’s set in Alabama, circa 1819. French exiles try to make a go of it in a new land, but thieving river-rats and land speculators are out to swindle them. Then, out of the woods comes a company of Kentucky’s sturdiest, their grins as easy as their guns are long. Something like that.
Anyhow, John Wayne is one of ’em. He woos an aristocrats daughter and eventually things get down to musket logic. Doing producer duty as well, Wayne arranged a nice look for the project, and his acting is okay: he looks good in buckskins and a fur cap, and his riding prowess is demonstrated in a few rousing chases.
Otherwise, it’s a rather draggy 100 minutes with the writing & direction by George Waggner merely adequate. The presence of Oliver Hardy (minus Stan) is the most distinctive item in the supporting cast. Duke and Ollie have good chemistry together as chums, and Wayne wanted Hardy to continue as a sidekick, but the comedian graciously declined and returned to his steady teaming with Laurel (who had been battling diabetes).
The producer-star was less happy with his talent-challenged leading lady, Vera Hruba Ralston, who had been foisted on him by Republic studio head Herbert Yates. The Czechoslovakian figure skater Ralston (Hruba was her last name, she chose Ralston after seeing the name on a cereal box) was the 69-year-old Yates 29-year-old mistress: go figure on the casting. Wayne wanted a French actress like Simone Simon or Corinne Calvet, but Vera got the job, her heavy Czech accent not helping the dramatics.
Critics dismissed, and the $1,300,000 hobbled in at #81 for 1949, earning a little over $3,000,000. Wayne fans will watch out of duty, others will steer clear.
The storyline was palmed from a kernel of history, as Congress apportioned four parcels of the Alabama Territory to host Bonapartist refugees. That the Choctaws were in the way is something the movie avoids. The French attempted to grow vineyards, but failed and those were bought out and turned into plantations.
With Philip Dorn, Marie Windsor, John Howard, Grant Withers, Paul Fix, Hugo Haas, Mae Marsh, Jack Pennick, Hank Worden. The movie brought stuntman Chuck Roberson into the Wayne circle, and he would make a long career doubling for the star and acting in small roles, most notably in The Alamo (Duke was loyal).