Thursday, December 6, 2018

CONSENSUS #95 - The Alamo (1960)

SYNOPSIS: "The Alamo" is John Wayne's take on the famous siege during the Texas Revolution. It covers the campaign and the battle. Wayne plays Davy Crockett.  He throws in a romantic sub-plot and command dysfunction between Travis (Laurnece Harvey) and Bowie (Richard Widmark). The movie concludes with an Old School Hollywood spectacular Mexican assault.

BACK-STORY: The Alamo is a war movie released in 1960 about the famous siege of 1836. It was directed and produced by John Wayne. He did not intend to star in his directorial debut, but the studio refused to back the project without Wayne starring. Wayne deserves a lot of credit for overcoming every obstacle to finish a project that was obviously important to him. He assembled a good cast and did a competent job as director. He also put a lot of his own money into it and did not recoup his investment. The movie did not do particularly well at the box office but did get Oscar nominations for Sound, Cinematography, Editing, Score, and Song. The money does show up on the screen with the recreation of the Alamo from the ground up at Alamo Village in Bracketville near the actual site in San Antonio. The set took two years to construct and looks more authentic than the original. Rumor has it that the fake Alamo has a basement with a bicycle in it.

TRIVIA:  classic movie hub, imdb, Wikipedia, TCM
1.  Chill Wills took out a tasteless ad in Variety to push for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.  The ad claimed the crew were praying more for Wills’ victory than the defenders in the Alamo were praying to survive.  There was such a backlash that Wayne had to take out a counter ad.  Wills lost to Peter Ustinov from “Spartacus”.  It would have taken more than a brilliant ad to change that outcome.
2.  Charleston Heston turned down the role of Bowie partly because his moderate Democratic political philosophy (at the time) clashed with Wayne’s conservatism.  Also, he was skeptical about Wayne as a first-time director.   He later regretted the decision.  Clark Gable turned down the Travis role.
3.  Wayne and Richard Widmark did not get along.  It started when Wayne called him “Dick” to try to bond and Widmark coldly insisted on Richard.  After that Wayne emphasized “Richard”.  It did not help that Widmark was a liberal Democrat who supported civil rights and gun control and was opposed to black-listing.  He also questioned Wayne’s directorial talents.
4.  Wayne, who felt guilty about avoiding WWII, saw the movie as his way to join the fight against communism.  That’s why the movie has a big liberty and democracy theme.
5.  Wayne wanted to play the small role of Sam Houston so he could concentrate on directing, but the studio insisted he take on a bigger role to boost the box office potential.
6.  Wayne was all-in for the movie and went into his own pocket to pay for cost overruns.  He did not recoup his money until the TV rights were sold years later.
7.  During filming, a cannon rolled over Laurence Harvey’s foot breaking it.  Harvey finished the scene.
8.  The production used 7,000 extras, 1,500 horses, and 400 cattle.
9.  The set took two years to construct and became a major tourist attraction.  It was used in over 200 Westerns.
10.  Bowie’s seven-barreled gun was called a Nock Volley Gun and developed for use in the Royal Navy.  It had limited use because the kick was more than most men cared to endure.
11.  The movie was banned in Mexico.
12.  Wayne intended to shoot the film in Mexico until the Daughters of the Republic of Texas threatened him with tanking the film in Texas theaters.
13.  After a few weeks of release, the movie was cut by 30 minutes.
14.  Wayne hired Frankie Avalon because of the successful casting of Ricky Nelson in “Rio Bravo”.
15.  Several days in, Widmark wanted to drop out because he felt he was not right for playing the much larger Bowie.
16.  Historians James Frank Dobie and Lon Tinkle insisted their names be removed from the credits.
17.  The movie won the Academy Award for Sound.  It was nominated for Supporting Actor, Cinematography, Editing, Music, Picture (losing to “The Apartment”), and Song (“The Green Leaves of Summer”).
18.  Sammy Davis, Jr. wanted to play the slave, but his controversial marriage to a white woman nixed it.
20.  It was the only film Wayne directed.
21.  John Ford showed up on set and started giving Wayne advice.  Wayne solved the problem by sending Ford off to do some second unit shooting of Mexican cavalry.  Most of which did not make it into the film.

Belle and Blade  =  N/A
Brassey’s              =  5
Video Hound       =  2.5
War Movies         =  3.8
Military History  =  #61
Channel 4             =  not on list
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  no

OPINION:  If you want to know the legend of the Alamo told through the lens of democracy versus communism, this is the movie for you.  If you are interested in accuracy, this movie should not be shown in an American History classroom.  Although it is probably required viewing in Texas classrooms.  It is entertaining in an old school Hollywood epic sort of way.  The final battle is epic for sure. It is a bit hard to believe it is in the top 100 because it was not critically acclaimed when it came out and it’s reputation has not improved over the years.

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