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FIGHTING KENTUCKIAN, THE (director/writer: George Waggner; cinematographer: Lee Garmes; editor: Richard Van Enger; music: George Antheil; cast: John Wayne (John Breen), Vera Ralston (Fleurette De Marchand), Philip Dorn (Col. Georges Geraud), Oliver Hardy (Willie Paine), Marie Windsor (Ann Logan), John Howard (Blake Randolph), Hugo Haas (Gen. Paul De Marchand), Grant Withers (George Hayden), Odette Myrtil (Madame De Marchand), Paul Fix (Beau Merritt), Mae Marsh (Sister Hattie), Jack Pennick (Capt. Dan Carroll); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: John Wayne; Republic; 1949)
“Its overall mediocrity doesn’t get in the way of its pleasant presentation.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

I caught the black and white version; it’s also shown in a computerized color version. It’s a routine Western starring the reluctant John Wayne for a second time with Vera Ralston (the wife of Republic boss, Herbert J. Yates). Ralston is not a good actress and without connections it’s doubtful if she would have gotten the lead part. There seemed to be no chemistry between them. Writer-director George Waggner tries spicing up this romantic adventure story with comedy, provided mainly by Oliver Hardy–doing a rare solo from partner Stan Laurel.

It’s set around Mobile Alabama in 1819, where a Kentucky army regiment is returning home after fighting the Battle of New Orleans. The penniless but bold Kentucky two-fisted coonskin wearing trooper John Breen (John Wayne) decides to muster out here, where there are a number of Napoleon’s French soldier exiles under the command of Gen. Paul De Marchand. Breen wastes little time romancing upper-class Fleurette De Marchand (Vera Ralston), the general’s daughter, who is soon to marry crooked businessman Blake Randolph (John Howard). But while trying to win her from Blake, Breen learns that the river town is run by the ruthless George Hayden (Grant Withers). In order to remain in town, Ann Logan (Marie Windsor) tells Hayden she hired Breen as a surveyor. Her real aim was to get revenge on Hayden, who killed her surveyor husband but doesn’t know who she is. Even though Breen knows nothing about being a surveyor, he’s joined by his sidekick Willie Paine (Oliver Hardy)–as their army captain (Jack Pennick) released him early from service figuring Breen needed someone to look after him. Breen soon learns that Blake changed the stakes on the exiles for his boss Hayden, as they plan to cheat hundreds of French army refugees of land granted to them by an Act of Congress. It leads to the big battle at the climax between Hayden and his land-grabbing river men against the French soldiers aided by Breen, Paine and the Fighting Kentuckians who return from nearby Catawba with Paine leading the charge by blowing his bugle.

Wayne and Hardy work well together, Lee Garmes’ photography sparkles and there’s the usual Wayne big fight scene (this time over a jug of rum). The film proved to be a box office success; its overall mediocrity doesn’t get in the way of its pleasant presentation.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”