Widmark's Holden On
A decent story, a good director and a more than solid lead pairing in William Holden and Richard Widmark are all things in favour of 60s western "Alvarez Kelly". But there is one thing which goes against it and it is one thing which ends up making this western solid but average and that is pacing. You see "Alvarez Kelly" comes in a snitch under 2 hours but unfortunately for the first 80 minutes it goes around in circles, establishing characters but not really moving the storyline forward. And so what you really want, the action of the Confederates trying to steal a herd of cattle from the Union takes up just a little more than a quarter of the movie, which is a shame.
Having driven his herd of cattle 100s of miles to sell to the Union army Alvarez Kelly (William Holden - The Horse Soldiers) finds himself kidnapped by the Confederates lead by Col. Tom Rossiter (Richard Widmark - The Bedford Incident). With the Confederates food supplies running low they want Kelly to help them steal the herd and get them to their men in Richmond which is surrounded by Union soldiers.
So "Alvarez Kelly" is another one of these old westerns which takes its lead from the history books, in this case the "Beefsteak Raid" of 1864. Now I am no Civil War expert but I would imagine that much of what we see in "Alvarez Kelly" is fiction just taking the basis of Confederate soldiers stealing a herd of cattle from the Union as the idea for the story. But it is a good idea especially as are main protagonist is the cynical Kelly who does not favour any side but is only looking out for himself and what he can get. So for that reason Kelly is selling the herd to the Union because their money is good but then the Confederates kidnap him as they want him to train them and lead the theft of the cattle.
But the trouble with "Alvarez Kelly" is that for ages it goes nowhere other than setting up the troubled relationship between Col. Tom Rossiter and Alvarez Kelly as Rossiter needs Kelly to help or else it will fail. We get scenes of Rossiter forcing Kelly to help, we get scenes of Kelly flirting with Liz Pickering, Rossiter's girl and it all goes back and fourth but never really getting anywhere. There is some cleverness especially in a scene where Kelly actually helps Pickering with something but at times it feels like it is padding trying to make a simple storyline much bigger than it really is.
It means that for almost the first three quarters of "Alvarez Kelly" we have this character building which never goes anywhere and then we get to the action, that of Rossiter and Kelly trying to steal the herd of cattle from the Union. Now this is where things actually get good, the way the story unfolds with a few twists and some action is well worth waiting for. Although ironically it is all over too quickly with a very abrupt ending which almost feels like the writers had no idea how to bring things to an end.
In many ways the saving grace to this is that there is great chemistry between William Holden and Richard Widmark. Both Holden and Widmark play characters similar to what they had done in previous westerns which allows them to do so with confidence but they also have this verbal sparring going on like real friends do. And because it feels natural almost to the point that some of the banter feels like it isn't scripted that it lifts the movie even when during the first 80 minutes it veers towards dragging.
What this all boils down to is that despite a decent storyline, a good director and a good cast "Alvarez Kelly" ends up sadly just another average western. And the reason is down purely that for the first 80 minutes it seems to pad things out rather than getting to the actual cattle raid.