The Alamo Reviews
The film can really be broken into two distinct parts; the first part introduces the characters, providing insights into their personalities, and tells a melodramatic tale of a beautiful woman (the radiant Linda Cristal), being forced into an unwilling relationship with an evil, profiteering Texan, who is rescued by the plain-spoken and heroic Davy Crockett, as portrayed by Wayne. The story bears similarities to 'The Fighting Kentuckian', a Wayne vehicle of twelve years earlier. In this version, however, Wayne doesn't 'win' the girl, but gives her a rather preachy speech about patriotism, and doing what's right, and sends her on her way.
Despite a terrific fight scene between a bunch of the Texan's henchmen, and Crockett and Jim Bowie (portrayed with easy charm by Richard Widmark), this first part drags, a bit, and seems contrived to allow Wayne to air his political beliefs. Bear with it, though, because when the action moves to the mission/fortress of the Alamo, for the second half of the film, Wayne's talents as a director truly shine.
The story of the 13-day siege between the Alamo's 187 defenders, and General Santa Anna's 6,000-man army, has NEVER been told on a grander scale than in the John Wayne version, and the uncut edition of the film is presented in a wide-screen format, which allows the viewer to really share Wayne's vision. With a nod to the fact that the Mexico of today is a staunch ally (several characters make a point of saying how 'proud' they are of the Mexicans, even as the two forces are killing each other!), the story flows between exciting 'victories' (stealing the cattle, spiking the Mexican cannons), and an understanding of the inevitable conclusion (defined by Lawrence Harvey, as Travis, in the memorable 'sword in the sand' scene). Harvey's Travis is the best-realized of the film's many characters; he brings a humanity to the complex, driven commander, growing from someone insensitive to others, into a leader who earns everyone's respect.
Wayne used thousands of Mexicans as extras in the film, which gives the viewer a far greater sense of the magnitude of the siege than Republic's 'The Last Command' or Disney's 'Davy Crockett' ever could. The battles, particularly the final one, as row after row of Mexican foot-soldiers overrun the pockets of defenders, are unforgettable! Each character is allowed to die heroically, and is given a lingering moment to make a final gesture (Travis breaks his sword over his knee as Mexicans surge past, Bowie fires his unique gun, a brace of pistols, and swings his famous knife, Crockett, bayoneted to a door, still manages to pull free, and torch the magazine). The film's climax, alone, would make the film a 'must' for any action fan.
The cast includes many well-known character actors and long-time Wayne friends, including Ken Curtis as Lt. Dickinson, Travis's adjutant; Chill Wills as the most outspoken of Crockett's men; Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams, Denver Pyle, Chuck Roberson, and many others, as defenders. Wayne's son, Patrick, has a small but visible role as James Butler Bonham, the famous Alamo dispatch rider, and his daughter Aissa plays the Dickinson's child, Angelina.
'The Alamo', for all it's faults, is a magnificent spectacle, monumental in scope. It is a fitting tribute to it's star/director, and an ESSENTIAL part of any John Wayne collection!
I wasn't exactly going into this 1960 John Wayne film expecting all that much subtlety, yet there are still plenty of points in this film that are perhaps fluffier than they probably should, because even though the film isn't consistently corny, it still turns in plenty of improvable, if not simply cheesily heavy-handed dialogue points, as well as a narrative that goes plagued by much of that distinct 1960s melodrama that slows down the momentum of storytelling, much like, of all things, plot structuring that is anything but slow. At nearly 170 minutes, or, in the case of the director's cut that few people want to see, at the very least, because it's only available on VHS, this film has plenty of room to tighten things up, and it often does, and yet, there are still points that feel a bit too hurried, maybe not to where storytelling adopts a kind of slam-bang feel, but decidedly to where exposition takes some hits. There's enough meat to this meal for things to feel adequately well-cooked (Great, now I'm hungry), yet subtlety issues and the occasional hurried spot thin out the final product's flesh a touch, while slow spots - of which there are more than I had anticipated - further blands things up too much for your investment to stand all that firm. I went into this film expecting, at the very least, plenty of entertainment value, and sure enough, I did find the fun factor within this effort to be reasonably juicy, though hardly as rich as I was hoping it would be, because as entertaining as this film is, it's not without its bland spots, and quite a few of them, never to where dullness sinks its teeth all that deeply into things, but much too often to where storytelling is left dragging its feet as hardly all that engaging. I'm not asking that this film be consistently thrilling, or even consistently fun, but this film faces too many relatively bland spells, and has plenty of time to, because even though something of a hefty length is recommended when it comes to a story concept like this, padding is rather surprisingly much too plentiful within this product, whose excessive filler in plotting shakes consistency in focus, while simple fat around the edges that has little in the way of necessary storytelling value leaves things to feel a bit too repetitious. The pacing issues within this film stand to be more severe, but the fact of the matter is that they do, in fact, stand, and just firm enough to give you the opportunity to meditate upon what might be the final product's biggest issue: overambition, something that is understandable, given the potential within this project, but ultimately too palpable for this execution of promising concepts to feel all that assured or stable enough to obscure a wealth of other issues, thus making for a surprisingly and unfortunately underwhelming epic. Still, no matter how messy this overambitious opus may be, at the end of the day it feels like it takes to watch this film, you'd be hard pressed to not be reasonably entertained by what is done right in John Wayne's telling of a worthy tale, or at least impressed by some fairly strong musical aspects.
A classic score composer for plenty of Hollywood westerns and epics, Dimitri Tiomkin held a resume that was full of titles that were known for their strong, if a bit conventional scores, with this film boasting yet another Tiokin score that is not exactly too refreshing, even for its time, but nevertheless generally quite strong, with a distinctly old Hollywood sweep and soul that breathes much liveliness into things, and is sometimes broken up by artistic touches by Tiomkin that are, in fact, relatively unique. Tiokin's consistently commendable musical tastes play a reasonably notable role in the defining of this film's liveliness and tone, though certainly not as much as William H. Clothier's photographic tastes play a role in defining the sweep of this epic, being not too terribly outstanding, largely due to the limitations of the time, but still with enough broadness to scope play to capture the immensity of this film's distinguished and dynamic environment, as well as enough crispness in coloring and lighting to catch your eyes about as much as a film of this type and time could. Visually, this film may very well have been a technical marvel for its time, and even to this day, Clothier's cinematographic tastes are strikingly worthwhile, particularly when put to fine use in the heat of combat, where the grandness of Clothier's scope gives you a very well-rounded view into the broad-scale warfare that this film has enough strong technical and production value to dramatize thrillingly. Certainly, this film's action sequences aren't exactly superb by today's standards, but the sweep and technical competence behind the battle scenes within this war epic are rich enough to keep you quite entertained, if no just plain gripped when the heat of warfare comes to a head and livens up the kick to this film's substance, which recieves further juice from plenty of charm within this cast of classic charismas. Don't get me wrong, this film's era didn't exactly hold too high of a standard for acting, and sure enough, traditional acting is simply decent at its very best in this film, and is generally kind of mediocre, if not fairly weak, when it comes to charisma, you'll find much difficulty in ignoring the star power that most everyone radiates enough of to sustain your attention and, to a certain degree, investment within characterization, however thin it may be. I wish I could say that this film was sharper in its bringing this worthy story concept to life through plenty of commendable storytelling strengths, but there is just enough inspiration in the compliments to substance for you to get a reasonable grip on the value within this subject matter, not to where the film comes close to truly rewarding as much as it probably should, but decidedly to where you'll find yourself reasonably willing to stick with this faulty epic, wondering just what it is to happen next. At the very least, John Wayne's direction graces this film with entertainment value, something that is still too thin for the final product's own good, but generally rich enough for the final product to sustain your attention more often than not and leave you having a reasonably fun time, no matter how much it leaves quite a bit to be desired.
When the battle dies down, you're likely to be left feeling rather underwhelmed, thanks to the cheesily unsubtle spots, hurried, or at least underdeveloped spots, slow spots and, of course, repetitious bloating that slowly, but surely, eat away at the full impact of this should-be rewarding effort, until the final product is left standing as quite improvable, though not so much so that you can't appreciate the strong score work, fine cinematography, grand action, charming cast and reasonable entertainment value that color up a worthy story that is done just enough justice for John Wayne's "The Alamo" to ultimately carry on as a decent epic that does a fair job of keeping you going, even though it stands to compel more.
2.5/5 - Fair
"Republic. I like the sound of the word. Means that 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."
Should have been simple enough: tell the story of the Battle of the Alamo with some good, epic action scenes and some character development. The action scenes are there, and are good. However, the character development is quite superficial: there are no shades of grey. Travis is a martinet, Crockett and Bowie are one-dimensional, anarchic, uber-hero adventurers.
Moreover, director John Wayne and writer James Edward Grant add in several sub-plots which have no bearing on the story. Yes, some are there to add some colour to the characters, but they just seem gratuitous and wholly unnecessary.
Acting is almost all of the over-the-top macho variety. John Wayne was always going to be the swaggering hero (that's all he knows), and, as he is director, now he has licence to crank up the swagger. Richard Widmark comes close to matching him in this regard. Only Laurence Harvey, as Travis, plays it straight. Too straight: he comes off as cranky.
Surprisingly, despite all the hammy acting that abounds, this movie got an acting Oscar nomination. Chill Wills was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, for his performance as Beekeeper. Probably the most undeserved Oscar nomination in history. Apparently his marketing campaign in attempting to get the Oscar is worth a movie itself...
This all said, this version is still far better than the one from 2004.