The Alamo – 1960 Review

The Alamo **1/2 out of ****
The Alamo was nominated for Best Picture in 1960 and was directed by John Wayne, who was actual a pretty decent director.  His ability to direct large numbers of actors and horses in their formations and battle situations over large amounts of land are reminiscent of the legendary Akira Kurosawa, especially his work in Ran.  Likewise, the cinematography (William H. Clothier) was one of the better things about the movie.  Anything with wide open landscape always helps but one can definitely tell that some thought went into the shooting of this film.
The Alamo is a typical Western film that one might find coming out of the 50’s and 60’s.  The genre hasn’t really survived since then, except for a few obvious films (Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, Unforgiven, No Country For Old Men).   In my opinion it’s the times that changed, and not the Western.  Back then, a good Western with shootouts, dames and saloons seemed to be just what the doctor ordered.  Things are different now.  It’s a realism thing.
Being a Western, some things are naturally exaggerated.  However, since The Alamo was based on an actual event, one would assume that we would get a little more reality out of the deal.  But again, this was 1960, not 2010.  1960 had different notions and needs.  Perhaps escapism was the purpose back then.  The Alamo (film) notoriously created myths regarding the actual events that took place and the heroes that participated in them.  The film focuses on Davy Crockett (John Wayne), Jim Bowie (Richard Widmark) and William Travis (Laurence Harvey), three of the more familiar names in history and their apparent struggle to both get along with each other and hold off the Mexican army from going further into Texas.  Being a Hollywood film in the early 60’s, naturally the actual story is altered to become more interesting, but I think that the real story itself would’ve been fine.  The film could’ve been just as entertaining and even more fascinating if it were more honest.  It didn’t need the fluff. 
The film is too long and takes quite a while to really get going.  Characters are introduced and not developed.  Scenes exist for no other reason than to further acknowledge the existence of Davy Crocket and Jim Bowie.  And there are too many speeches.  Imagine a world where words come so abundantly and eloquently.  At 2 ½ hours, all of these things contribute to a film that is about thirty minutes too long. 
The soldiers don’t take fighting seriously.  They joke and smile and laugh and get drunk and fight.  All for comedic elements I’m sure, but it’s almost to the point of becoming slapstick.  Take these scenes and couple it with a cheesy, whimsical score and you get something that is rather hard to take seriously.  They could die soon, but they are horsing around.  A film about the Alamo and the battles surrounding it can contain moments of humor, but for the most part should be at least slightly more somber.  My negativity towards the film is picking out sub-flaws within the one main flaw of being overly unrealistic.
However, the last 25 minutes of this film were extremely emotional.  In setting up for the final battle scene, where the soldiers all but know they will not make it out alive, we hear an appropriate dramatic score and see various scenes of soldiers sitting in quiet recollection or exchanging thoughtful words.  In one moment, Crocket and Bowie are sitting against the wall in the evening before the final battle.  Bowie asks Crocket what he’s thinking about to which Crocket replies, “Not thinking, just remembering.”  I completely buy into the fact that this would be how people would spend their final moments of life if they knew they probably would not live.  The last 25 minutes of the film are by far the most real.  Nothing is fabricated here.  It’s all sincere; full of great acting and great lines.
The Alamo won the Academy Award for Sound Recording and was nominated for Picture, Supporting Actor (Chill Wills), Drama/Comedy Score (Dimitri Tiomkin), Original Song, Cinematography & Film Editing (Stuart Gilmore).


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