The Kentuckian

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The Kentuckian
The Kentuckian poster.jpg
Directed by Burt Lancaster
Produced by Harold Hecht
Written by A.B. Guthrie Jr.
Based on The Gabriel Horn
by Felix Holt
Starring Burt Lancaster
Dianne Foster
Diana Lynn
Walter Matthau
Music by Bernard Herrmann
Cinematography Ernest Laszlo
Edited by George E. Luckenbacher
Hecht-Lancaster Productions
Distributed by United Artists
Release date
  • August 1, 1955 (1955-08-01)
Running time
104 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $2.6 million (US)[1]

The Kentuckian is a 1955 Technicolor and CinemaScope adventure 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 also marked the feature film debut of Walter Matthau. The picture is an adaptation of the novel The Gabriel Horn by Felix Holt. The picture was shot on location in Kentucky in the Cumberland Falls area, the Levi Jackson Wilderness Road State Park near London, Owensboro and Green River, and at the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Village near Rockport, Indiana.[2]


Frontiersman Elias "Big Eli" Wakefield (Burt 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 also has to deal with villainous Stan Bodine (Walter Matthau), who cracks a bullwhip.

The movie also 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, there is a ferocious fight 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]


As part of the marketing, the studio commissioned Thomas Hart Benton to create the painting The Kentuckian, which depicts a scene from the film. The painting belongs to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art since 1978.[4]


  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. ^ "The Kentuckian". Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Retrieved 2017-02-13. 

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