In The Alamo (1960), his only film as director, John Wayne wanted to show how a famous group of men fought heroically against the Mexican authorities to achieve Texas independence. The movie presents the opposition of two distinct armies with, on the one hand, Davy Crockett, Colonel Travis, Jim Bowie and their men, and on the other hand, General Santa Ana and his Mexican army.
Although it was not the first western with a plot revolving around the Alamo battle—a tragic page of American History—John Wayne’s 10 years of work on his movie offered quite an interesting and realistic result with a fair balance between humoristic moments and serious ones. For his first time behind the camera, John Wayne succeeded in glorifying values such as liberty and courage, just as he intended.
John Wayne’s starring role as Davy Crockett, in his coonskin cap, appears as the clear epitome of the high hopes and motivation of his men, bringing a little entertainment whenever the movie needs it: for instance, a friendly fight with a guy from the bar, right in the middle of a serious conversation with Colonel Travis about their hopes and dreams of a Republic. The movie is able to make the spectator feel various emotions, such as sadness, joy or euphoria.
When it comes to realism, the setting speaks for itself. The movie is quite long and lasts two hours and a half, but its breathtaking backgrounds recalling the wilderness of the American West are particularly enjoyable. The movie was produced in Texas, and enables the audience to be visually satisfied, for instance at the very end of the movie when the camera offers beautiful landscapes and views of the mountains during the battle.
The final battle scene is pretty well represented, and Dimitri Tiomkin’s epic music makes it even more spectacular. The ending on “The Ballad of the Alamo,” sung by the University of Texas Choir, gives goosebumps and dramatically conveys the notion of unity through this powerful choir singing in unison.
It is a shame that certain characters in the movie are not developed. Some are introduced only toward the end, and it is hard to understand their role in the story. This is precisely the case for Flaca, who is the young and beautiful woman Davy Crockett saves from a forced marriage. After being saved, she appears onscreen a few times next to Davy, and only seems to be useful in writing a letter in Spanish for him. Even if we do believe there is going to be a love story between the two characters, Davy finally makes Flaca leave to protect her, contrary to the audience’s expectations.
As for the postponed arrival of the battle in the movie, it is a little bit disappointing. This is how you actually realize that the movie is focusing more on the actions leading to the battle, than on the battle itself, which lasts only a few minutes at the very end of the movie. So if you’re thirsty for action when the film begins, then the only advice is: be patient.
To conclude, The Alamo is a good movie with an entertaining main character, but it could have been even more enjoyable if action had not been belated and if some characters had been more developed. The action scenes and the choice of setting in Texas make the movie realistic, thus contributing to making us even more sensitive to what is being conveyed, notably the values of courage, liberty and unity, which John Wayne glorifies in his one and only western as a movie director.
The Alamo (1960)
202 min. (roadshow version)
167 min. (general release version)