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,Alvarez Kelly

Alvarez Kelly

Based on a true Civil War incident, Alvarez Kelly (1966) tells the story of a renegade adventurer (William Holden) - the title character - who delivers a herd of 2500 cattle to Union forces on a Virginia plantation. The Union is trying to starve out the people of Richmond, Virginia, and to stop them, Confederate Colonel Tom Rossiter (Richard Widmark) will go to any length, including kidnapping Kelly, shooting off two of his fingers, and threatening to continue the treatment unless the cattle herder helps him steal the herd from under the Union troops. A bitter hatred grows between the two men, and although Kelly agrees to the scheme, he uses it to help Rossiter's reluctant lover, Liz Pickering, escape to the north on a blockade runner. The raid on the plantation is successful but the problem arises of getting the herd over a bridge fortified with 500 Union soldiers. In the film's climactic set piece, Kelly stampedes the cattle into Union lines, bringing on a bloody and chaotic battle.

Alvarez Kelly was William Holden's first picture after a two-year absence from the screen. By then his drinking problem was well known to everyone in Hollywood, and director Edward Dmytryk, who only worked with Holden once before (when he was a bit player in Million Dollar Legs, 1939), had misgivings. Holden had concerns about his director too. Dmytryk was considered one of the industry's hottest young directors in the late 1940s, especially after the dark, intense thriller Crossfire (1947), a story of murder and racial tension. But his rising career was damaged by the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) investigations of communist activity in Hollywood. A longtime political leftist who was briefly a Communist Party member during World War II, Dmytryk refused to cooperate with the committee. He became part of what was known as the unfriendly "Hollywood Ten," a group of writers and directors who refused to give testimony before Congress and had their careers disrupted or ruined as a result. After spending several months in jail, Dmytryk decided to renounce his former party ties and testified again before HUAC, this time naming names. Many in Hollywood never forgave him for that, and although he always expressed his belief that he had done the right thing, his decision cast a shadow over the rest of his career. Later in life, he gave up directing altogether and became a film professor, first at the University of Texas at Austin and later at the University of Southern California. He wrote several books on filmmaking and two volumes of memoirs before his death in 1999.

Politics didn't get in the way of William Holden and Richard Widmark's friendship during the making of the picture, although it certainly could have. Widmark was a staunch liberal Democrat who considered Holden a rather staid Establishment conservative (except when he had a few drinks and started laughing and flirting with the girls). The two men, loners at heart, often indulged in some alcohol-fueled benders during the location shooting in Louisiana, although Widmark was generally more in control and watchful of the reckless, hard-drinking Holden.

Holden was an unending source of problems during production. He never failed to show up for work, but most mornings he arrived badly hungover with bloodshot eyes and a puffy face. He was often unable to remember his lines, so Dmytryk was forced to shoot around him or reduce his scenes to very short takes. He also contracted salmonella in Louisiana, and production was suspended for six weeks as a result. But Widmark always had the greatest affection for him, and the feeling was apparently mutual - although sometimes oddly expressed. When Widmark got the flu and was confined to his hotel room, Holden recalled that his friend had once played the drums, so he bought him a snare drum to occupy him during his recovery. "That four months of being constantly together on a film location was the equivalent of ten or fifteen years of friendship," Widmark later told Holden's biographer Bob Thomas.

Producers: Sol Siegel, Ray David
Director: Edward Dmytryk
Screenplay: Elliott Arnold, Franklin Coen
Cinematography: Joseph MacDonald
Editing: Harold F. Kress
Production Design: Walter M. Simonds
Original Music: Johnny Mercer, Johnny Green
Principal Cast: William Holden (Alvarez Kelly), Richard Widmark (Col. Tom Rossiter), Janice Rule (Liz Pickering), Patrick O'Neal (Major Albert Steadman), Victoria Shaw (Charity Warwick), Roger C. Carmel (Captain Angus Ferguson), Arthur Franz (Captain Towers), Harry Carey, Jr. (Corporal Peterson), Richard Rust (Sergeant Hatcher).
C-110m. Letterboxed.

by Rob Nixon

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