A feudin’, a-fussin’, and a-fightin’ in a two-family rivalry story that spans more than seven decades, Kentucky is a fairly predictable romantic melodrama that follows the conventional storytelling techniques of its era. Directed economically by studio contract helmer David Butler and starring reliable actors from its contract player pool, the movie now stands as a pleasant if easily forgettable drama, in the record books mostly for the Oscar-winning work of its key supporting player rather than for any other outstanding quality it might possess (though one suspects the Technicolor photography was a likely draw back in the day).
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 480I/MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 2.0 DD
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 35 Min.
Package Includes: DVDAmray case
Disc Type: DVD-R
Release Date: 04/29/2014
A Kentucky feud between the Goodwins and the Dillons goes all the way back to the Civil War era when Confederate sympathizer Thad Goodwin Sr. (Russell Hicks) is shot down for disobeying an order from Union commander John Dillon (Douglas Dumbrille) and having his entire stock of grown thoroughbreds confiscated by the Union army. Seventy-seven years later, the Goodwins and the Dillons are still ornery toward one another, especially Peter Goodwin (Walter Brennan) who had seen his father shot down all those decades ago. When the Goodwins lose their estate in a bad speculative cotton deal, they’re left with but one asset, a Dillon thoroughbred won in a dice game. Disgusted with his banker father (Moroni Olsen) for not doing more to help the Goodwins, long-errant son Jack Dillon (Richard Greene) applies for the job of training the Goodwin’s new asset now named Blue Grass, but he makes a special effort not to tell the Goodwins who he is since he knows Peter and his granddaughter Sally (Loretta Young) won’t allow him to touch their new horse if they know who he is. Jack does a masterful job training the beautiful horse getting him ready for the Kentucky Derby and falling in love with Sally along the way, but with the Derby approaching and realizing his father will have the odds-on favorite to win entered, Jack knows he’s got to find a way to tell Sally and Peter who he really is.
The Production Rating: 3/5
Lamar Trotti and John Taintor Foote wrote the screenplay (adapted from the latter’s story “The Look of Eagles”) and have managed to touch on all the expected story points of two feuding families who have children who fall in love with one another (that plot having been around for only a few centuries). And the continuing secretive nature of Jack’s identity (he tries to tell Sally but keeps getting interrupted in the usual movie-style way) makes for the tediously expected hurt feelings and mistrust once the secret comes out. (Of course, it seems ludicrous not to realize that in such a small town, Jack would have needed to bribe more than one of his old servants – Ben played by George Reed – in order to keep his identity unknown for such a long period of time, but movies of the era didn’t expect audiences to think along those lines.) There are two horse races in the film, but obviously the budget could only spring for one, so we do get to see the climactic Kentucky Derby (which naturally goes down to the wire between the feuding families’ two horses), but the earlier race for Blue Grass is heard only over loud speakers in a betting parlor. David Butler keeps things moving smoothly from the relatively chaste love story (the lovers share only a couple of kisses before the break-up) to the various episodes where the conflicted families get thrown together in events outside the races and must keep up appearances as best they can, but there is some sloppiness afoot when one can easily see shadows falling on painted backdrops of the Kentucky countryside in several shots.
There aren’t many sparks struck between Loretta Young and new Fox contract player Richard Greene (whose British accent is explained away very feebly) though each of them individually do fine with their dramatic chores. Walter Brennan won the second of his three Academy Awards for this performance, one of his customarily cantankerous geezers forty years older than his real-life age (legend has it that the Screen Extras Guild from whose ranks Brennan graduated and who were allowed to vote for the Oscars back then are who swept him into this award ahead of the more celebrated work of Basil Rathbone in If I Were King and John Garfield in Four Daughters). George Reed cackles up a storm as the wily old Ben, and Bobs Watson as the young Peter Goodwin does what he was known for and weeps uncontrollably in his Civil War-era sequences. Familiar character actors like Charles Lane, Charles Middleton, and Eddie Anderson also pop up in small but easily memorable roles.
The film’s original 4:3 aspect ratio is faithfully rendered in this transfer. The original Technicolor elements are long since gone replaced by less dynamic and sometimes chalky-looking Eastmancolor elements, but at their best, the colors can have a strong, striking quality (greens come off best and reds occasionally catch fire, too) even if skin tones are decidedly on the pale side. Sharpness is excellent, and while there are specks and splotches to be seen now and again, this is certainly not among the least of the Cinema Archive color releases. The film has been divided into chapters every ten minutes so there are 10 chapters here.
Video Rating: 3.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The Dolby Digital 2.0 sound mix is decoded by Dolby Prologic into the center channel. The mono mix is what you’d expect for a film from this period with dialogue nicely recorded and not compromised by the music score or the sound effects. As with most other releases in this MOD program, volume levels have been set too high, so a decrease in their levels will leave you with a genuinely pleasurable listening experience even with a bit of attenuated hiss here and there.
Audio Rating: 3.5/5
There are no bonus features on this made-on-demand disc.
Special Features Rating: 0/5
Kentucky is a pleasurable if predictable romantic melodrama of the period, but the Fox Cinema Archive release of it gives us a better than average account of both its assets and its deficiencies.
Overall Rating: 3/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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