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The Alamo Movie Review

wayne john river travis

1960 – John Wayne –

The Alamo has some things going for it. The cinematography often creates an effective sense of scale in its panoramic angles. The lighting and color add to the ambiance, especially during the evening and dusk scenes. The score nicely blends the martial-sounding strains of Mexican music with that of American popular melodies. All this combines pleasingly at times to create a distinctive mood for the film.

But these merits do not offset some drawbacks, both big and small. For one thing, the story, as presented, is not exactly correct. In the film Crockett (John Wayne) is said to have been born in Kentucky. (He was born in Tennessee.) Houston (Richard Boone) tells Travis (Laurence Harvey) to hold the Mexican army “right here on the Rio Grande.” (The Alamo is not on the Rio Grande, a river that lies over a hundred miles to the south.) The river adjacent to The Alamo is the San Antonio River, but in the movie no river runs anywhere near the fort. Another problem is topography. The real Alamo is not on a plain in a desert. San Antonio is on the southern edge of the Balcones Escarpment and just north of Austin Chalk Cliffs, two rather prominent geological features. While these features are not the Swiss Alps, neither are they the Sahara Desert. Also, since San Antonio is the second oldest city in North America, by 1836 it would certainly have been much larger than the several adobe buildings depicted in the movie. Perhaps John Wayne got a really good deal on land near Bracketville, Texas, where the exteriors were shot.

Worse than the nagging historical and geographic inaccuracies is the overblown acting. Though perhaps limited in range like most personality stars, John Wayne in his better work (The Quiet Man, Red River, The Searchers) is still enormously effective and compelling. Here, however, Wayne comes off as stiff and strutting, his moments of humor not nearly as funny as he perceives them to be. The drunk that Richard Widmark tries to play is totally unconvincing, with a performance that includes every stereotype imaginable. In Texas public schools, all seventh graders have to take Texas history and read the letter Colonel William Travis wrote asking for reinforcements, wherein they learn that he was quite proper. However, Laurence Harvey's disappointing portrayal of Travis seems very unrealistic. In the film Travis never draws the line in the sand with his sword as he did in history. The overdone acting serves to create caricatures of the actual people. In light of the memory of the brave men who fought and died at the Alamo, it is a real pity. The Alamo reveals little of the historical accuracy and integrity of better battle films such as Glory and Gettysburg. It is almost as though Wayne tried too hard with too little to recreate one of the most unselfish, heroic moments in American history.

Cast: John Wayne (Colonel Davy Crockett), Richard Widmark (Jim Bowie), Laurence Harvey (Col. William Travis), Frankie Avalon (Smitty), Patrick Wayne (Captain James Butler Bonham), Linda Cristal (Flaca), Joan O'Brien (Mrs. Dickinson), Chill Wills (Beekeeper), Joseph Calleia (Juan Seguin), Ken Curtis (Captain Almeron Dickinson), Carlos Arruza (Lieutenant Reyes), Jester Hairston (Jethro), Veda Ann Borg (Blind Nell Robertson), John Dierkes (Jocko Robertson), Denver Pyle (Thimblerig, the Gambler), Richard Boone (Gen. Sam Houston) Screenwriter: James Edward Grant Cinematographer: William H. Clothier Composer: Dimitri Tiomkin Producer: John Wayne for Batjac Productions; released by United Artists Running Time: 167 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards, 1960: Sound; Nominations: Cinematography (Color), Editing, Picture, Song (“The Green Leaves of Summer”), Supporting Actor (Chill Wills), Score; Golden Globe Awards, 1961: Score Budget: $12M Box Office: $2M.

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