The Kentuckian (1955 film)

The Kentuckian is a 1955 American CinemaScope Western film directed by Burt Lancaster, who also starred. This was one of only two films Lancaster directed (the other was The Midnight Man), and the only one for which he has sole credit. It was Walter Matthau's film debut. The film is an adaptation of the novel The Gabriel Horn by Felix Holt. The film was shot in locations around Kentucky, including Cumberland Falls, the Levi Jackson Wilderness Road State Park near London, Owensboro, and Green River, and at the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Village near Rockport, Indiana.[2] A feature landmark is the natural arch Sky Bridge .

The Kentuckian
The Kentuckian poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBurt Lancaster
Written byA.B. Guthrie Jr.
Based onThe Gabriel Horn
by Felix Holt
Produced byHarold Hecht
StarringBurt Lancaster
Dianne Foster
Diana Lynn
Walter Matthau
CinematographyErnest Laszlo
Edited byGeorge E. Luckenbacher
Music byBernard Herrmann
Color processTechnicolor
Hecht-Lancaster Productions
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • August 10, 1955 (1955-08-10)
Running time
104 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2.6 million (US)[1]


Frontiersman Elias "Big Eli" Wakefield (Lancaster) decides to leave 1820s Kentucky and move to Texas with his son "Little Eli" (Donald MacDonald). Along the way, they run into two women who take a liking to the pair, indentured servant Hannah (Dianne Foster), who wants to go with them, and schoolteacher Susie (Diana Lynn), who would rather have Big Eli marry her and settle down. Big Eli has to deal with villainous Stan Bodine (Matthau), who cracks a bullwhip. The film features an appearance by the famed sternwheel riverboat Gordon C. Greene, the same steamboat used in Gone with the Wind and Steamboat Round the Bend.



Near the end of the film, a ferocious fight occurs between Lancaster's character and Matthau's whip-wielding villain. Matthau was doubled by whip expert Whip Wilson, who cut Lancaster across the shoulder after the star asked him to "hit me and make it look real".[3] Lancaster had also taken a real whipping during the filming of Norma Productions' first film Kiss the Blood Off My Hands in 1948.[4]


As part of the publicity, the producer, Hecht and Lancaster, commissioned Thomas Hart Benton to create the painting The Kentuckian, which depicts a scene from the film. The painting belonged to the Hecht family for years but was ultimately donated to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1978.[5]


  1. ^ 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1955', Variety Weekly, January 25, 1956
  2. ^ "Notes". Turner Classic Movies.
  3. ^ Andreychuk, Ed (2000). Burt Lancaster: a filmography and Biography. McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 82. ISBN 0-7864-0436-1.
  4. ^ "Picture of the Month: Kiss the Blood Off My Hands", Modern Screen December 1948 p 57
  5. ^ "The Kentuckian". Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Retrieved February 13, 2017.

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