The Fighting Kentuckian
Directed and Written by George Waggner
Produced by John Wayne
Cinematography by Lee Garms
Distributed by Republic Pictures
Action / Romance / Western
John Wayne as John Breen
Vera Ralston as Fleurette DeMarchand
Philip Dorn as Col. Georges Geraud
Oliver Hardy as Willie Paine
Marie Windsor as Ann Logan
John Howard as Blake Randolph
Hugo Haas as Gen. Paul DeMarchand
Grant Withers as George Hayden
Odette Myrtil as Mme. DeMarchand
Paul Fix as Beau Merritt
Mae Marsh as Sister Hattie
In the early 1800’s a group of French outcasts have escaped Napoleon and emigrated to the U.S., buying land from the government in Alabama to establish four towns. One of the towns is Demopolis, some 200 miles from Mobile, Alabama. In Mobile, a young Kentucky soldier named John Breen, who only needs to return to Kentucky for his discharge papers, has decided to stay behind and get a head start on his new life. Trying to evade his regiment, he hides in a carriage containing the lovely Fleurette, who gives him plenty of reason to want to stay. As soon as he thinks the coast is clear, he spies his good friend Willie Pain. He persuades Fleurette to allow him to ride with her around the town square, but Willie pursues them the whole way, so he asks Fleurette to keep going. This continues several more times, and although John apologizes and thanks her for her hospitality, she makes no attempt to hide the fact that she is clearly enjoying this comical encounter with such a handsome stranger. Fleurette suggests that if they ride in one direction, Willie couldn’t possibly keep up, and off they go. Together they ride towards Demopolis, but they don’t get far before the wagon is intercepted by Fleurette’s fiancé, Blake Randolf, and his friends, George Hayden, Col. Georges Geraud, and the sheriff of Demopolis. Blake and his cronies accuse John of assault at a tavern earlier but before the sheriff can arrest John, the Kentucky regiment that John snuck away from comes through and claims him.
John’s regiment arrives in Demopolis some time later, and John finds that his regiment is invited to an event to celebrate Fleurette’s engagement to Blake. At the party, John and Fleurette are getting reacquainted when Willie notices a wrestling match for a one gallon jug of Jamaican rum. Knowing that he can’t beat the wrestler he attempts to make off with the rum, starting a brawl that is part football, part rugby and part bar fight. When the Regiment moves on, John tells his Captain he’s going to stay behind and start his new life and the Captain agrees, letting him know that they will be stopping in a town a ways up the road for three days if he wants to catch up to them. Bidding them farewell, John is surprised when Willie shows up from behind a tree, and confesses that the Captain suggested he should stay with John to “keep him out of trouble.”
Later Breen goes to see Fleurette at her home, but is denied entry by the butler, though when Blake shows up he is allowed right in. Breen is riding home, thinking to himself, but decides to turn around and head back, when he hears yelling coming from the saloon that sounds an awful lot like Willie. Going in to check it out, Willie is on the edge of a bar brawl by demanding Kentucky whiskey and not Alabama rum. John settles things out a bit by offering to buy the house a drink, when Hayden comes out of the room he was in and tells John and Willie to get out of town in a not too flattering manner. A brief fight ensues when John and Willie punch out Hayden and the rest of the saloon jumps on them. Before things can get out of hand, Ann Logan, Hayden’s mistress, steps in to break it up, telling Hayden that John is a surveyor that she met in Kentucky six years ago. Reluctantly, Hayden decides to let John buy the house a drink.
When John and Willie arrive back at the cabin, they discover some surveying equipment was brought in while they were away. The mystery doesn’t last long when Ann shows up and explains that the equipment had belonged to her fiancé, who died in a cabin fire. The fire was ruled an accident by a jury, but she doesn’t buy it. She believes that Hayden had him killed, and she’s been trying to discover why and asks John to help her. John agrees and Ann leaves for the evening.
The next day the pair decide they should go out and at least attempt to do some surveying, even though neither of them knows anything about it. Seeing that John and Willy are out surveying, Blake runs to Hayden to let him know. Hayden is already aware however, and has his thug Beau Merrit, watching them. Blake and Hayden were involved together in a plot to move the boundaries of the land that the French were giving and allow them to settle it, and their homes away from them. However, Blake has decided not to go through with the plan due to his relationship with Fleurette, but Hayden still wants to run the scheme. Back at the surveying site, John discovers a marker, and he is shot at by an unseen assailant. The round grazes his hand, and the two go off to discover who is shooting at them. They come upon a cabin where the wrestler lives. His daughter, Marie, quickly sees the wound on John’s arm and takes him off to wrap it. At that moment Fleurette arrives to bring Marie a wedding dress to be altered. Marie goes off to work on the dress while Fleurette speaks with John. Also arriving are Blake and some of his men, who go to the cabin. One of Blake’s men offers John a shot, and he holds up his wounded arm and replies, “No thanks, just had one” before going off to find Willie, who is trading recipes with Fleurette’s mother. John tries to talk with Fleurette’s mother, who tells him that Blake has arranged for some fiddlers to play at the house, and gives him the impression that the marriage with Blake and Fleurette will happen. Saddened at this state of affairs, he proceeds to leave when Willie bestows some words of wisdom that light his fire again.
That night John and Willie go to the house disguised as fiddlers, even though John cannot play. John is very nervous, but seeing Fleurette inspires him to fake his way through the gig, until he realizes that each of the fiddlers is playing a very impressive solo. His turn comes and he botches it, although Fleurette starts to clap, convincing the group that it was part of the act. John leaves and is told to go to the gazebo, and he tries to motion to Fleurette to follow him there, but when he arrives he finds Blake there instead. Blake offers an eloquent threat to which John throws his pistol on the table and offers to settle things with a Kentucky standoff. Blake refuses, leaving. As John picks up the gun, a Frenchman in the shadows emerges and puts away his gun. John asks who the man was going to shoot, and gets the reply, “the winner”.
John immediately goes to Fleurette and pulls her out into the night and makes it clear to her that she is going to marry him, and not Blake, to which Fleurette happily agrees. John tells her that he will return for her after the party. When John arrives for Fleurette, he finds her father, Gen. Paul DeMarchand, waiting for him. They retire to DeMarchand’s impressive cabin adorned with war memorabilia. DeMarchand tries to appeal to John not to run away with his daughter. The French are caught trying to survive in a land they know nothing about and see their only means of survival as forging strong relationships with influential Americans. Fleurette overhears them talking and gets discouraged. Her heart falls when John agrees not to take her away that night and he leaves. When John goes to Geraud’s home to pick up Willie Geraud shows him some documents he received recently regarding the land the French were granted and the original surveyor’s documents. With this information, they realize that Ann’s story must have been a lie and prepare to pay her a visit. John sneaks into her room and hears her and Beau, Hayden’s bodyguard, plotting to rob him of $100,000. John confronts the two and puts a gun in Beau’s back and he spills the beans on the plan. At that moment Hayden arrives, forcing John to make a quick getaway. Beau goes after John and Willie with some of Hayden’s men. John rides to DeMarchand’s house and breaks the news to them that they built on the wrong land, and that river men are coming to take the land back tomorrow. At that moment Beau and Hayden arrive and punch holes in John’s story, pointing out that he is not a surveyor. Rather than lie, John tries to escape but Hayden’s men have the place surrounded. Hayden escorts John back and is about to kill him, but Geraud arrives to escort them back. When they get back Hayden kills Beau for betraying him.
The next day, the French are assembling, and Blake goes to see Fleurette, who tells him the wedding is off as she loves John. Blake leaves angrily and finds out that the French are really marshalling in case Hayden’s river men move in. Blake goes to confront John, who Hayden has locked up. Hayden lets Blake in and then locks the two of them together. As Hayden moves on the French, the French defend their land. Back in town Ann brings John and Blake some coffee and leaves the door unlocked. They discuss who takes the bait first and Blake knocks John out, making a run for it and getting shot. John wakes up and goes after Hayden to find that Ann has been killed trying to break into his safe. Outside Hayden jumps on a horse and John gives pursuit. As they arrive at the site of the battle with the French, John is able to kill Hayden, and Willy comes riding back with the rest of the Kentucky regiment to fight Hayden’s men alongside the French. After the battle, John and Fleurette are married, and the Kentuckians head home.
This was one of only three films that Oliver Hardy performed in without Stan Laurel, and the only one that Hardy performed in with his good friend John Wayne. Hardy was originally afraid of doing the film, as he feared that people would think the comedic duo had split up, but Laurel was in poor health, and urged Hardy to make the film.
Wayne’s biggest regret about the film involved his co-star, Vera Ralston, and later he was quoted as saying, “Yates made me use Vera Hruba. I've always been mad at Yates about this, because we lost the chance to have one damn fine movie.”
Vera Ralston was a figure skater for Czechoslovakia in the 1936 Olympic Games, where she famously insulted none other than Adolf Hitler to his face. In an interview later she was quoted as saying, "I told him I'd never skate under his flag, but that I'd be VERY happy to skate over it!"
Vera’s career as an actress was a rocky one, and many critics speculated that the only reason she got the roles that she did was because she was married to the director of Republic Pictures, Herbert J. Yates.