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ALVAREZ KELLY (director: Edward Dmytryk; screenwriters: Franklin Coen/Elliott Arnold (uncredited)/Dan Taradash (uncredited); cinematographer: Joseph MacDonald; editor: Harold F. Kress; music: John Green; cast: William Holden (Alvarez Kelly), Richard Widmark (Col. Tom Rossiter), Janice Rule (Liz Pickering), Patrick O’Neal (Maj. Albert Stedman), Victoria Shaw (Charity Warwick), Roger C. Carmel (Capt. Angus Ferguson), Richard Rust (Sergeant Hatcher), Arthur Franz (Captain Towers), Harry Carey Jr. (Corporal Peterson); Runtime: 109; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sol C. Siegel; Columbia Pictures; 1966)
“An indifferent film that never gets saddled right.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Supposedly based on a true US Civil War incident. During Grant’s siege of Richmond, a herd of about 2,500 cattle was rustled from behind the Union lines by a daring and starving troop of Reb cavalry. It’s slow-moving, awkwardly presented, poorly scripted (Elliott Arnold and Franklin Coen’s initial script was doctored up by Dan Taradash at the request of the studio, but he received no credit) and much too soppy. Director Edward Dmytryk (“Broken Lance”/”Warlock”) tries but fails to keep it going by balancing its historical interest against a social conscience agenda, and leaves us with an indifferent film that never gets saddled right. The film is set in 1864; it was shot in the undeveloped South, in Baton Rouge.

William Holden plays Alvarez Kelly, the renegade adventurer of Mexican-Irish heritage, a Mexican national whose family had been run out of Texas during the Mexican War. He’s apolitical and has no love for either side in the Civil War, so for strictly mercenary reasons delivers a herd of 2,500 cattle to stuffy Union Army Maj. Albert Stedman (Patrick O’Neal) at a Virginia plantation. He would have dealt with the Rebs, but finds their money is worthless. Confederate guerrilla Tom Rossiter (Richard Widmark), an eye-patch-wearing colonel, has seduced the plantation owner’s gorgeous daughter, Charity Warwick (Victoria Shaw), to help him steal the herd for the South. Kelly has no choice when he’s kidnapped by the Rebs and has one of his fingers shot off by Rossiter, but to go along with their scheme. The catch is the Rebs need Kelly alive to get the cattle to their hungry troops in Richmond, and he’s forced to train them to be cowboys. Kelly gets his revenge on Rossiter when he aids Rossiter’s reluctant bride-to-be, Liz Pickering (Janice Rule), to elope with another man and get out of Richmond by crossing the Mason-Dixon line. But Kelly’s biggest problem turns out to be when Grant has taken Richmond and he now must try to get the cattle to cross a bridge to take the cattle further South. Stedman has 500 soldiers stationed at the bridge, making it not possible to use the bridge. The ever-alert Kelly, in a daring move, stampedes the cattle into the Union lines. This leads to a bloody battle, with all kinds of heroics and blood-and-gore. When the dust clears and the herd is safely across the bridge, Rossiter frees Kelly to go his own way–figuring they’re now sort of even.

The film lags during the middle and wakes up for a rousing action-packed conclusion. Its saving grace is that the action scenes give the film a new lease on life. Otherwise, the film is done in by a confusing script that never worked. The acting is uniformly good. Holden is fine, in a part he could probably play even if he were on a drinking binge, but he seems to act as if he never fully believes in his character. Widmark turns in his usual fine performance.REVIEWED ON 10/20/2006 GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”