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The Alamo

The Alamo(1960)

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After the opening credits, a long written prologue explains that in 1836, Texas was under Mexican rule and settlers from far countries and all parts of the United States were considered Mexican citizens. The prologue continues by stating, "Generalissimo Santa Anna was sweeping north across Mexico toward them, crushing all who opposed his tyrannical rule" and forcing the Texans to make "the decision that all men in all times must face...the eternal choice of men...to endure oppression or to resist." The film, as it was shown at its opening, contained an overture, intermission, entr'acte and exit music.
       Although a June 15, 1960 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that the film was 210 minutes, at the time of the October 1960 opening it had been shortened to 192. According to a November 1960 Hollywood Reporter news item and other contemporary sources, producer-director John Wayne cut thirty more minutes, in response to a study of audience reaction indicating restlessness during the early parts of the film. Among the several sequences removed at that time were: a birthday party scene for the daughter of "Capt. Almeron Dickinson"; a drunken "Col. James Bowie" finding that "Col. William Barret Travis" has been placed in charge of the fort; "Emil Sande" being killed by "Col. David Crockett," who then tells "Flaca"; Flaca and "Mrs. Guy" talking as settlers leave the area; the death of "Parson" as Crockett prays; and the defenders of the Alamo discussing their religious beliefs on the night before their last battle.
       Although the October 1960 Variety review and other sources claim that Wayne's cinematic version of the story of the Alamo differs somewhat from history, much of the film remains true to the facts or popular legends about the battle. Col. Travis was left in command of the Alamo by Col. James Neill, who is seen briefly in the film. After Gen. Antonio Lpez de Santa Anna's army began to arrive, Travis sent a famous message, claiming that he was "besieged by a thousand or more of the Mexicans [but] determined to sustain myself as long as possible, and die like a soldier...." As depicted in the film, Capt. James Butler Bonham was sent to appeal to Capt. James Fannin. Although Fannin was ambushed and killed near Goliad, as recounted in the film, this incident did not happen until after the fall of the Alamo.
       The film's "Smitty" had a real-life alter ego, a twenty-one-year-old Texan named James L. Allen, who was sent out as a courier the night before the final assault and missed the battle. According to a November 1960 Los Angeles Examiner article, Wayne was undecided about whether Smitty, who was portrayed by teen idol Frankie Avalon, would die with the rest of the main characters but, just before the filming the final scenes, Wayne announced that "The end of the picture is depressing enough. He lives." As mentioned in the film, the siege lasted thirteen days, partly because Santa Anna's forces were waiting for the twelve-pounder cannons needed to breach the Alamo's walls. According to historical sources, Travis did at some point tell his men that escape was impossible and death certain, and allowed anyone to leave without loss of honor. Unlike the film, but similar in spirit, only one man was reported to have left the fort.
       After the Mexicans stormed the Alamo on March 6, 1836, Bowie shot and killed two of the enemy from his infirmary bed before being killed, as was shown in the film. Although sources differ on the real outcome of Crockett, some believe that he was probably killed while attempting to blow up the fort's gunpowder, as shown in the film. Before dying, the 189 Alamo defenders killed between 1,000 and 1,700 Mexican soldiers. Although Santa Anna announced a glorious victory, his more skeptical aide is reputed to have said, "One more such glorious victory and we are finished." As in the film, Mrs. Dickinson and her baby were spared, as were other noncombatants. The thirteen extra days during which the Alamo's fighters stalled Santa Anna's progress north May have helped Texas' eventual victory, but most sources agree that the self-sacrifice of Alamo defenders was more important as a tremendous morale builder that strengthened the Texans' resolve to beat their opponent. On April 21, 1836, Houston's army defeated Santa Anna at San Jacinto, shouting cries of "Remember the Alamo" and "Remember Goliad" (in memory of Fannin's last battle), and won the liberation of Texas. In 1845, Texas became a state.
       A July 1951 New York Times news item reported that Wayne would "star in, produce and direct The Alamo at Tuacana, Mexico." In an October 1960 Los Angeles Times article and other contemporary sources, Wayne said he first conceived of the film in 1946. According to a January 1960 ^MPH article, the script by James Edward Grant, who also served as associate producer for the film, had been "in constant work, enlarged and changed literally dozens of times" throughout the 1950s. According to an October 1959 LA Mirror-News article, Wayne presented the idea to Herbert Yates, head of Republic Studios, to which Wayne remained under contract in the early 1950s and which had made the 1939 film about the Alamo, Man of Conquest (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40). However, Yates refused to back Wayne's idea, but Republic later made the smaller-scaled 1955 picture The Last Command about the Alamo, without using Wayne or Grant's script.
       In the early 1950s, Wayne considered producing the film in Sonora, Mexico, and even had sets built there, but the money to finance the picture was suddenly withdrawn, possibly because of sensitivity over making a picture in Mexico about "5,000 Mexican soldiers killing the 180 defenders of the Alamo, shrine of Texas liberty," according to the October 1959 Los Angeles Mirror-News report. While searching for suitable locations in Peru, according to a modern source, Wayne met his third wife, Pilar, who was a local actress. In a October 23, 1960 Daily Variety article, Wayne disclosed that, besides United Artists, backers of the film included brothers I. J. and O. J. McCullough, and Clint Murchison, all oilmen, and the Yale Foundation.
       The film's program book also listed Clint Murchison, Jr. and Dabney Murchison as investors. According to the October Daily Variety article, Wayne said that he put up the rest of the money. A modern source reported that Wayne also tried to interest Warner Bros. in the production, without success. According to modern sources, Wayne eventually mortgaged his house, his production company and other holdings to finance the film. In an October 1960 Limelight article, Wayne was quoted as saying, "Every last damn dime I have in the world I tied up in this thing." During this time, according to an August 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item, he and his business manager of eighteen years, Bo Roos, parted ways.
       According to a October 4, 1959 New York Times article, art director Alfred Ybarra began researching the Alamo and San Antonio de Bexar in 1950. An authentic reproduction of the Alamo as it appeared circa 1835 was built over a two-year period on the 22,000-acre ranch owned by James T. "Happy" Shahan, which was located northwest of Brackettville, TX. Although, in an October 1960 Los Angeles Times article, Wayne claimed that they originally planned to build ordinary false front sets, instead the set consisted of completed buildings made from authentic adobe. Because the set was built in the middle of undeveloped land, crews also put in more than ten miles of underground electrical and telephone wiring, as well as modern toilet facilities and five miles of sewage lines. The construction, according to the New York Times article, completely changed the economy of the county. A November 1960 American Cinematographer article reported that the buildings were constructed to withstand violent extremes of Texas weather. An October 1959 New York Times article reported plans to make the set a tourist attraction after the film's production was completed. According to the New York Times article, the cast and crew were housed during filming in the abandoned army barracks at nearby Fort Clark, TX.
       A December 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that a total of 200 players and 5,000 extras appeared in the picture. Wayne's four-year-old daughter Aissa made her film debut as "Angelina `Lisa' Dickinson" and his son Patrick portrayed "Capt. James Butler Bonham." According to an October 1960 Los Angeles Times article, his daughter, Toni Wayne LaCava, had a one-line speaking role and Pilar was an extra in the film, but their appearance in the film is unconfirmed. Other actors added to the cast, but whose appearance in the film has not been confirmed, include: Dean Smith (who was also a stuntman), Mickey Finn and Richard Evans. Carlos Arruza, who portrayed "Lt. Reyes," was a noted matador. According to a November 1960 Los Angeles Mirror-News article, twenty-five stuntmen rode trained "falling horses" for the battle scenes.
       According to an August 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item, Linda Cristal, who portrayed Flaca in the film, and John Gavin were on loan from Universal; however, a September 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that negotiations for Gavin to play the role of Dickinson were not completed and that Ken Curtis was cast in the role. An August 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Danny Stradella was cast, but he did not appear in the film. Although negotiations for Wayne and Marlon Brando to "swap" cameos in their respective films, The Alamo and The Ugly American, were reported in an August 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item, neither actor appeared in the other's film. A September 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that Diahann Carroll was offered a role, but she did not appear in the film. A August 5, 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that James Arness lost the role of "Gen. Sam Houston" to Richard Boone.
       Several modern sources reported that Wayne was interested in playing the role of Houston and had originally intended to play a small part, so that he could concentrate on producing the film. However, according to the sources, UA would agree to back the project only if he starred in it, as it was too much of a risk without him. A November 1960 Los Angeles Mirror-News article reported that Wayne originally wanted Richard Widmark to play Travis instead of Bowie and a modern source reported that he later "regretted not playing" the role himself. A modern source adds Teresa Champion, a Flamenco artist who danced on the table in the cantina sequence, to the cast, as well as actor Rudy Robbins.
       The Alamo marked Wayne's directorial debut, but not, as some contemporary sources stated, his first film as a producer. An October 1959 Los Angeles Mirror-News article reported that director John Ford, Wayne's mentor and longtime director, was "hovering around" the camera and directed some second unit battle scenes, and a July 1959 ^HR news item reported that Ford would direct scenes in which Wayne performed. However, according to special material in the film's DVD version, all of Ford's scenes were cut from the final film. In a November 1960 Los Angeles Mirror-News article, Ford shrugged off speculation about just how much he contributed to the final film and claimed that he was the "coach."
       The Alamo's program book stated that 300 rare longhorn cattle were borrowed from several Texas ranchers, including Milby Butler, J. D. Phillips, Cap Yates and Bill Daniel, who was the brother of then Texas governor Price Daniel and who also portrayed "Col. Neill." A total of eight Todd-AO cameras were used, and according to a November 1960 American Cinematographer article, all night scenes were shot at night, due to the use of a new Eastman film negative. Modern sources also add Wayne's brother Bob Morrison (Office) and Rolly Harper (Caterer) to the crew.
       According to an October 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item, the University of Texas allowed the use of its song, "Eyes of Texas," to be incorporated into Dimitri Tiomkin's score. The October 1960 Limelight review reported that Tiomkin also incorporated other traditional melodies into his score, including "El Deguelo," the song Santa Anna was said to have played to the besieged Alamo defenders to signal "no mercy." The film's soundtrack was released by Columbia Records.
       Although several sources report that the cost of the film was $12,000,000, a October 5, 1960 Daily Variety news item reported that Wayne's "final tally" for the film was $14,000,000 and that the film would have to gross $17,000,000 before he netted a profit. To publicize the film, according to a September 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item, Wayne's company Batjac intended to spend $100,000 in radio ads. A September 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Pontiac would sponsor a special one-hour television show that would feature a rare "trailer-type plug for the film" and show behind-the-scenes footage. According to a December 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item, two days of production during the filming of the movie were devoted to the television special. An August 1960 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Wayne ordered a huge painting by Reynold Brown called "The Last Charge at the Alamo" to be reproduced in 24-sheets as part of ad campaign billboards. According to an October 1960 Daily Variety news item, 184 pages of material, which the news item described as the "longest single `press release' ever distributed for a Hollywood motion picture," was sent to "10,000 columnists, government officials, opinion makers, libraries, schools and exhibitors."
       Although, according to an April 1961 Los Angeles Herald Express article, assistant to the producer Michael Wayne handled parts of the publicity chores, according to a December Hollywood Reporter news items, publicist and Wayne's aide Jim Henaghan hired Russell Birdwell, who had been the chief publicist for Gone With the Wind (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40), as publicity consultant. When Henaghan was fired following a dispute with Wayne, Birdwell was given his job. Although a December 1959 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Henaghan filed a suit against Wayne, claiming that he had not received full compensation for his work on The Alamo, according to modern sources the dispute was settled out of court without disclosure of details.
       In several October 1960 articles, Wayne claimed that The Alamo had a "message." In the film's program book, he wrote that The Alamo was "filmed to convey to Americans and people everywhere a sense of the debt they owe to all men who have died fighting for freedom." Using Wayne's strongly-held convictions to sell the picture, Birdwell wrote a wordy, one-page ad that was published in the July 1960 Life magazine headlined "There were no ghost writers at the Alamo," which was signed by Wayne and Grant with the words "A Statement of Principle." Although mostly outlining the legendary exploits of those struggling for Texas freedom, the article, without naming other names, linked the heroism of the Alamo with the coming Presidential election, in which Wayne's interest was strongly Republican. The statement also addressed the film industry's controversy over formerly blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo, who wrote two of the other epic films released that year, Spartacus and Exodus (see entries below), both of which seemed possible contenders for an Oscar for Best Picture. The ad, which cost $152,000, according to a July 1960 Daily Variety article, received a "free plug" on NBC-TV's coverage of Sen. John F. Kennedy's press conference in which former President Harry Truman made charges that the coming Democratic Convention was "rigged" and a reporter waved a copy of the issue of Life magazine, asking if the ad was a "veiled plug" for the candidacy of Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson. A July 1960 Hollywood Reporter article wrote that the repercussion of the event, which received international attention, possibly allowed "Wayne's $152,000 gamble [to] pay off very big."
       The Los Angeles Mirror-News review stated that the The Alamo's patriotism had arrived when "a wary America" needed "a rousing, patriotic shot in the arm." In October 1960, a Los Angeles Herald Express reporter, believing that "Leftists and Communists" were attempting "to indoctrinate" the public, praised the "Americanism" values of The Alamo in a lengthy editorial. However, other reviewers, while commending the sweeping battle scenes in the last part of the picture, had criticisms of the film and uneasiness about the hyperbole surrounding it. The New Yorker reviewer pointed out anachronisms in the plot, but complained that in doing so he risked accusations that he was "lowering the prestige of Texas" and "the brave men who died in that heroic fiasco." The Variety review agreed that the filmmakers had "shrouded some of the fantastic facts of the original with...frivolous fancies of their re-creation" and reported that the film contained "homilies on American virtues and patriotic platitudes under life-and-death fire which smack of yesteryear theatricalism." Even the favorable Los Angeles Mirror-News review claimed that dialog during a lull in the battle, in which two minor characters call the Mexican soldiers "fine fighting men," stretched the story's credibility.
       The Alamo was nominated for seven Academy Awards: Best Picture; Best Supporting Actor (Chill Wills), Best Cinematography (Color), Best Film Editing, Best Musical Score, Best Song (Tiomkin and Paul Francis Webster's "Green Leaves of Summer") and Best Sound. In the months preceding the announcement of the nominations, controversy surrounded The Alamo as Birdwell and Wayne campaigned aggressively for the film in an unprecedented bid for votes. In December 1960 Birdwell bought a three-page ad in Daily Variety which listed excerpts from favorable comments about the film. He preceded the list by stating, "If men seeking the Presidency of the United States can be understood and admired for stating frankly and uninhibitedly `I want your vote,'" then the people of the film industry should not be "less timid in expressing their hopes and aspiration." In a three-page February 1961 Daily Variety ad, Birdwell again appealed to Academy voters by asking, "When the motion picture industry's epitaph is written-what will it say?," and concluded with two pages of complimentary, large print quotes by directors George Stevens and John Ford.
       Critic Ivan Spear, in a February 1961 Box Office editorial, wrote: "If memory serves correctly, never before has there been so much tocsintitillating in efforts to win merely Academy nominations." After the nominations were announced, columnist Dick Williams, who was expressing a sentiment shared by other critics, editorialized in a March 1961 issue of Los Angeles Mirror-News, that "The impression is left that one's proud sense of Americanism May be suspected if one does not vote for The Alamo." The cover story of the March 9, 1961 issue of Close-up suggested that Birdwell was buying nominations. To these accusations, Birdwell published full-page ad rebuttals, addressing his detractors by name, in issues of both Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety.
       Meanwhile, as noted in an April 1961 New York Times article, several ads were bought on behalf of Chill Wills, one listing stars he had "supported" in the past and testimonials of people from Texas, and another listing a roster of Academy members' names. Incorporating Wills's signature expression "cousins," a term of affection spoken by many of the characters he played, an ad read: "Win, lose or draw you're still my cousins and I love you all." According to a March 29, 1961 Hollywood Citizen-News article, Groucho Marx responded with his own ad, in which he claimed delight at being Wills's cousin, but his intention of voting for Sal Mineo (who was nominated for his performance in Exodus). Another ad for Wills in a March 1961 Hollywood Reporter issue stated that the The Alamo cast was "praying harder-than the real Texans prayed for their lives" for Wills to win. The various ads backfired on the actor after Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper, who was named in one ad, publicly repudiated him and Wayne took out ads in which he accused Wills of bad taste. In response, Wills's press agent, W. S. "Bow Wow" Wojchiechowicz, took full responsibility, stating that he placed the ads without Wills's prior knowledge.
       The expensive campaigning annoyed many people in the film industry. In a March 1961Box Office article, Ivan Spear noted the "political and idealogical schisms within the film capital" prompted by Birdwell's controversial publicity and concluded that "pictures could be brought into the winners' circle through sheer weight of advertising dollars." According to a April 2, 1961 New York Times article that placed The Alamo at "the center of the strife," "the Exodus people...riposted with full pages, exhorting fellow movie-makers to `Judge the picture-not the ads.'" The unprecedented season is considered by many historians to be the progenitor of future Oscar campaigns and the current inclination toward expensive electioneering for votes. When the Academy Awards ceremony aired on April 17, 1961, Best Picture was awarded to The Apartment and The Alamo was awarded only one Oscar, for Best Sound, which was received by Gordon Sawyer of Samuel Goldwyn SSD and Fred Hynes of Todd-AO SSD.
       Among the other honors bestowed on The Alamo, according to a March 1961 Daily Variety news item, was the Thomas Alva Edison Foundation Award for the best film serving the national interest. According to an April 1961 Hollywood Reporter news item, the Daughters of the American Revolution awarded the film a bronze plaque for best historical film of 1960. According to modern sources, The Alamo was neither a critical nor commercial success on its first release, but had some success in later reissues and television screenings. Modern sources state that Wayne sold his interest to UA after the first run and that he claimed to have eventually recouped his money.
       The Brackettville set was used as a location site for other film and television Westerns for several years. A November 1960 Los Angeles Mirror-News article reported that Richard Widmark and Linda Cristal, who portrayed Bowie and Flaca, respectively, soon returned to the Alamo set to film the 1961 Columbia production Two Rode Together (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70), which was directed by Ford. An October 1965 Hollywood Reporter ad and a November 1971 Variety news item reported that the Alamo set was for sale. A modern source explained that Wayne, needing money, had asked the department store Sakowitz to sell it on consignment for $3,000,000, but when the property never sold, Shahan made a direct deal with Batjac to buy it for about $250,000. A 1998 Amarillo Sunday News-Globe article describing a two-day reunion held at Brackettville for surviving cast and crew members to celebrate what would have been Wayne's ninety-first birthday reported that over one hundred films, videos and commercials had been shot at the set, which had become a tourist attraction.
       In 1993, a February Los Angeles Times article announced that MGM/UA was releasing a laser disc of The Alamo, restoring the film to its original three hours and twenty-two minutes running time from a 70mm print discovered in Toronto. A July 2002 Daily Variety article prior to a DVD release of the film reported that the print was found by a Toronto projectionist in 1990. In the Daily Variety article, producer and film preservationist Robert A. Harris, who worked with M-G-M to restore the print, stated that the only remaining "roadshow" print was "essentially a director's cut shot on 70mm." The newly released disc of the restored print also contained the original trailer for the film and a documentary, which, among other features, included 1959 footage of The Alamo set during which Laurence Harvey, the Shakespearean actor who portrayed Travis and who died in 1973, orated from Richard II with a Southern twang.
       In addition to the titles mentioned above, other films on the subject of the Alamo include Disney's 1954 Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier, starring Fess Parker; D. W. Griffith's 1915 The Martyrs of the Alamo; the 1926 Sunset Productions picture Davy Crockett at the Fall of the Alamo and Sunset and Columbia's 1937 production Heroes of the Alamo (see entries in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20; 1921-30; 1931-40). For information about U-I's 1953 The Man from the Alamo, which was directed by Budd Boetticher and starred Glenn Ford, . In 2004, director John Lee Hancock's The Alamo was released, starring Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Quaid.