Based on a true US Civil War incident, Alvarez Kelly concerns successful cattle grab engineered by Southern forces and executed under the noses of Northern troops. Outdoor action sequences, including an exciting stampede, enliven a tame script, routinely directed and performed erratically.
Franklin Coen and Elliott Arnold scripted Coen’s story, which pits Mexican-Irish William Holden (hence, the title) against Confederate officer Richard Widmark, eyeing Holden’s cattle as food for a starving South.
A lot of double-crossing takes place, with Victoria Shaw, mistress of a captured mansion, causing Holden’s kidnapping by Widmark, who forces the former to teach his troops how to handle cattle. Janice Rule, Widmark’s faithful sweetie, gives up her marriage hopes, and Holden helps her escape to NY with Scottish sea captain Roger C. Carmel. Patrick O’Neal is the Northern officer who is depicted in unsympathetic hues.
Director Edward Dmytryk has achieved uneven response from his players, in part due to scripting which overdevelops some characters and situations, and underdevelops others.