The Fighting Kentuckian (1949)
Wayne Fancies a Frenchy
Whilst "The Fighting Kentuckian" is an entertaining movie, partly down to seeing Oliver Hardy partner up with John Wayne, there isn't anything stand out brilliant or memorable about it. In fact with out that unique set up of Wayne and Hardy "The Fighting Kentuckian" would have ended up a below par John Wayne movie with what is ultimately a routine story. Even the fact that the initial set up of exiles from the Napoleonic war settling in America comes from the history books doesn't add anything to what is basically a routine movie which sees John Wayne playing the hero, getting the girl all with the help of a comedy sidekick.
Following the defeat at Waterloo, a community of French exiles set up home in America in four townships. One of those townships is Demopolis which is thriving under the leader ship of Colonel Georges Geraud (Philip Dorn) and General Paul DeMarchand (Hugo Haas). One day when DeMarchand's daughter Fleurette (Vera Ralston) is shopping in nearby Mobile she meets Kentucky Rifleman John Breen (John Wayne - Red River) and instantly falls for the charming soldier. But despite wanting to be with John she knows that her father expects her to marry wealthy Blake Randolph (John Howard) in order to help the French community prosper. Unwilling to let Fleurette marry Blake for the wrong reasons John and his pal Willie (Oliver Hardy - The Flying Deuces) stick around and in doing so uncover some dodgy dealings going on which could threaten the French communities existence.
So as already pointed out the set up to "The Fighting Kentuckian" does find its roots in the history book with French exiles setting up in America but that is as far as facts go. What follows on from this set up is basically a routine story of romance, treachery and heroics, the sort of movie John Wayne appeared in countless times. As such it plays out in a very predictable manner as we watch solider John Breen fall for Fleurette De Marchand and decides to stick around to try and win her hand despite the fact that wealthy businessman Blake Randolph plans to marry her. And at the same time discovers that all is not as it seems as various business men having been plotting over the land which the French have been given to live on and yes John Breen finds himself in danger because he knows the truth. All of which naturally builds to a big climatic ending as tensions both when it comes to romance and the deception spill over into a battle.
But whilst "The Fighting Kentuckian" plays out in a very obvious manner and fails to serve up anything new to make this storyline of romance and deception more interesting it is saved by the fact that Oliver Hardy is cast along side John Wayne. Just the simple camaraderie between Hardy and Wayne makes it enjoyable and you can see that they both enjoyed working together with Wayne often looking like his is struggling to contain his laughter. But it is also Hardy's brilliant comic timing which makes it work, the slow turn of a head to show a look of disapproval or a moment of obvious slapstick made funnier because Hardy makes us wait those few seconds longer for the joke to happen. Yes it would be fair to say that much of the humour is forced, set pieces thrown in because of Hardy's comic genius but in such a run of the mill movie it ends up being a highlight.
Aside from enjoying working with his friend John Wayne basically delivers us a stereotypical performance, he is a nice guy, quite charming, fearless and with a cheek about him. As I said it is stereotypical and you can see the same performance in countless other Wayne movies and the only stand out thing is that he honestly looks like he is enjoying making "The Fighting Kentuckian". Unfortunately the rest of the performances are no so good and whilst Vera Ralston is certainly beautiful as Fleurette De Marchand there is no chemistry between her and Wayne. And that is not the only issue as at times the thickness of her French accent becomes incomprehensible especially during the big finale.
What this all boils down to is that whilst a fun movie "The Fighting Kentuckian" is also just a routine John Wayne movie. The only thing which makes it stand out is the appearance of Oliver Hardy who not only livens things up with his brilliant comedy but also works well with John Wayne.
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