Review by Ann McDonald
Romeo and Juliet story set amidst horse racing in Kentucky. The family feud of lovers Jack and Sally goes back to the Civil War and is kept alive by her Uncle Peter.
“Kentucky” opens during the civil war. There are two families, the Goodwins, who favor the South and the Dillons, who are for the Union. People who had sympathies for the South had to forfeit their livestock and horses and we see John Dillon (Douglass Dumbrille) arriving at the Elmwood home to tell the head of the family, Thad Goodwin (Russell Hicks), that he is taking their horses for the Union army. A confrontation between the two men ends up with John dead and so the feud between the two families goes into a bitter no-holds-barred war that will span decades. 75 years later, Jack Dillon (Richard Greene) has just returned from eight years of studying the banking system in London.
He proceeds to tell his father that he has no interest in banking and wants to train horses. His father persuades him to work at his bank, just for a while, to see how he does and he reluctantly agrees. Out driving one day, he catches a glimpse of Sally Goodwin (Loretta Young) riding her horse and he is immediately smitten with her and so our Romeo & Juliet drama begins. Sally’s dad has invested in cotton and his venture fails. He applies to the bank for a loan and is turned down by Dillon Sr., a decision that upsets Jack who thinks it’s because of the family feud. He refuses to work with his father any longer and leaves.
He pretends to be a horse trainer and offers his services to Sally. She is bereft because her dad collapsed and died, a result of the rejection of his loan application. The outcome of this situation means that her house, her horses and her animals will have to be sold off. She only has one horse, the object of a bet between Dillon Sr. and Goodwin Sr. and this is the animal that Jack is going to train for her under an assumed name. Popping in and out is Walter Brennan as Peter Goodwin, an elderly, cantankerous man who never lets you forget his knowledge of horses. His performance keeps the film moving along for which he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
You get the ins and outs, ups and downs of a film that culminates with the fabulous Kentucky Derby race. This was photographed beautifully and the horses were wonderful. There was some great nail-biting tension and a race well run and won. All’s well that ends well and our Romeo & Juliet fare very well at the end. Good performances from Loretta Young and Richard Greene. The supporting cast were mainly black actors who played servants and stable hands and were given an eighteenth century mentality, which was unfortunate. A couple of the characters give good performances where they were given good material to work with. The main stars of this equine saga, were, of course, the horses. We have glimpses of great champions and past real-life Derby winners. An enjoyable tale.
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