Sometimes the obvious ideas are the best. A main plank of the marketing for Edward Dmytryk’s Civil War western Alvarez Kelly was via the name of the tital character. The 12-page (plus two-page fold-out) A3 Pressbook – the exhibitors’ main marketing tool – urged theater cinema owners to give discounts to anyone called Kelly. Better still, get them to attend the show en masse. Another plum would be getting hold of the ancestor of anyone called Kelly (hardly a long shot) who fought in the Civil War and putting them on local radio or television, especially if they had uniforms or weapons dating back to the conflict.
Although set in Virginia, the movie was shot in Louisiana, a fact that the Louisiana Tourist Commission was taken full advantage of, with a massive marketing splurge. The world premiere was held in Baton Rouge and over 30,000 posters were distributed nationwide through a tie-up with the Humble-Esso service stations. Stars and crew were put up in Baton Rouge which meant an 80/120-mile round trip to the main locations. That meant a 5.30am start and a six-day week. Filming was interrupted by a hurricane and an invasion by swarms of yellow-jacketed wasps. A 209-foot bridge was built across the Amite River in order to be blown up during the action finale. The locations were so remote the nearest telephone was 18 miles away. Details of such inconveniences were channeled as a matter of course to exhibitors in the hope that they would be picked by local newspapers looking for a story about how un-pampered movie stars were.
Fashion had always been a strong movie marketing tool and here exhibitors were urged to contact local museums for Civil War costumes and to work with local department stores to create window displays featuring Southern belles.
Given that cows were central to the movie, another element of the campaign focused on meat with tie-ins with the Louisiana Cattlemen’s Association and the Hasty-Bake barbecue range. Slightly more offbeat was an idea to contact quartermasters working in the current U.S. Army to give their views on the problems of feeding the troops. And, of course, there was ample opportunity for a horseman dressed in either a Union or Confederate uniform to lead a cow or small herd through a town in order to promote the picture.
There was a paperback tie-up with Gold Medal books, a novelization of the screenplay, complete with photos and credits. Window and shelf displays in bookshops offered free promotion. The educational angle could also be exploited since schools were always interested in historical pictures and this was based on a true episode in the Civil War.
The Columbia advertising department prepared a number of different posters in a variety of shapes and sizes (exhibitors would cut out the one they considered most relevant and take it down to their local newspaper which would use it to devise the ad). Sometimes the two protagonists – William Holden and Richard Widmark – were positioned at opposite ends of the adsheets, other times they were placed centrally above or within a montage of scenes and characters.
There were four taglines. One of the chief taglines focused on the title character – “the man and story that spell gallantry from A-Z” – which somewhat misled the public about Kelly’s true nature, but then, of course, you could hardly straight-out tell the audience that screen idol William Holden was a shady character. The other main tagline outlined the story in more realistic terms – “Renegade adventurer and reckless colonel…a war made them allies…a woman made them enemies…a battle made them legend!.” The two subsidiary taglines ran: “A herd of cattle against a herd of canon…the battle-adventure that carved a legend around one man’s name” and “Carving a legend in greatness from the Blue Ridge to the Rio Grande.” As was usual in these adverts, a couple of taglines could be merged in the same ad.
A review of Alvarez Kelly (1966) is published in tandem with this article.