ALAMO, THE (1960)

The Alamo (1960)



(director: John Wayne; screenwriter: James Edward Grant; cinematographer: William H. Clothier; editor: Stuart Gilmore; music: Dimitri Tiomkin; cast: John Wayne (Col. David Crockett), Richard Widmark (Col. James Bowie), Laurence Harvey (Col. William Barrett Travis), Frankie Avalon (Smitty), Richard Boone (Gen. Sam Houston), Patrick Wayne (Capt. James Butler Bonham), Linda Cristal (Flaca), Joseph Calleia (Juan Sequin), Chill Wills (Beekeeper), Ruben Padilla (Gen. Santa Anna); Runtime: 161; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: John Wayne; United Artists; 1960)

“Patriotic but inaccurate epic Western.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The epic film was made for $12 million and grossed $20 million at the box office. It was nominated for Best Picture. John Wayne put up his own dough to star, produce and make his debut as director of this patriotic but inaccurate epic Western. One patriotic gesture has the Duke as Davy Crockett saying “Republic. I like the sound of the word. It means people can live free, talk free, go or come, buy or sell, be drunk or sober, however they choose. Some words give you a feeling. Republic is one of those words that makes me tight in the throat–the same tightness a man gets when his baby takes his first step or his first baby shaves and makes his first sound like a man. Some words can give you a feeling that makes your heart warm. Republic is one of those words.”

The battle for independence of Texas will always be remembered for its motto “Remember the Alamo,” though I’m afraid the film will be recalled for being so ponderous. It was planned for ten years by Wayne along with screenwriter James Edward Grant. There was uncredited help in the direction by Wayne’s old pal John Ford.

What it did right was a splendid Hollywood final shootout that results in the slaughter of all the Alamo defenders. The exciting climax was credited to the second unit director Cliff Lyons. What went wrong is that there were too many irrelevant and strident scenes, a meandering film style and its overlong nearly three hour length–albeit cut to 161 minutes from 191 minutes on the DVD.

The noted historical tale is set in 1836 in a small Texas fort, the Alamo, which becomes the center of Texas’ fight for independence from Mexico. Tough-minded General Sam Houston (Richard Boone) promotes the rigid William Barrett Travis (Laurence Harvey) to a colonel and tells him that his 27 regular army troops are to defend the fort at all costs against the Mexican Generalissimo Santa Anna’s 7,000 troops until Houston can build a regular army. Also on hand are the hard drinking and knife-wielding Jim Bowie (Richard Widmark), married to an aristocratic Mexican woman, and his 100 rag-tag volunteers, and former congressman, the coonskin cap wearing adventurer, Davy Crockett, and his small group of Tennessee volunteers, who both vie with Travis for leadership of the beleaguered force. Though their reasons vary, these leaders all aim to make Texas a republic or go down fighting. For 13 days they bravely held off Santa Anna, until they fell.

For the most part the acting is fine, the exception being the comic relief efforts of Frankie Avalon, nevertheless the long-winded film never reached greatness. There’s an excellent score by Dimitri Tiomkin that includes the popular “The Green Leaves of Summer.”