The Last Command
Cast & Crew
Anna Maria Alberghetti
In 1830s Texas, a part of the Mexican republic north of the Rio Grande is populated by Indian tribes, a smattering of Mexican citizens and American settlers, who have taken up land granted by the Mexican government to speed development of the territory. Col. James Bowie, who has fought with Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna, the current Mexican president, stops in Anahuac on his way home south of the Rio Grande. Jeb Lacey, a young American who idolizes Jim, tells him that Santa Anna has been treating the Americans as if they have no rights, and that William Travis from South Carolina, the spokesman for the Americans, has been arrested. After Jim arranges for Travis' release, they visit the home of Lorenzo de Quesada, a Mexican citizen of Spanish heritage, who sides with the American colonists because Santa Anna has been moving toward despotism. During a meeting of colonists, Travis relates that four months earlier, Stephen Austin went to Mexico City with their petition requesting governmental reforms, but was thrown into prison by Santa Anna. Travis wants to create a militia to fight, but Quesada urges them to proceed with caution, not wanting to cause a break in friendship with the Mexican people, who he says have deep pride. Jim takes no side in the discussion. Mike Radin, who sides with Travis, calls Jim a Mexican citizen, and Jim acknowledges that he is one, that he is married to the daughter of a lieutenant governor in Mexico, and that he has a home there. When Travis accuses him of hesitancy because of his land holdings, Jim is offended and leaves that night. Quesada's seventeen-year-old niece Consuela, who met Jim when she was younger, warns him that some men are plotting against him. When she asks why he did not fight Travis and Radin, he explains that killing solves nothing. Radin, known in Bayou country as "Mike the Bull," challenges Jim to a knife fight. Jim wins, cutting Radin's arm, and Radin, in admiration, says he is a good man. As Jim rides to his village, soldiers forcibly take him to Santa Anna. After calming down, Jim advises his friend to renounce his despotic appetites, return to the constitution of 1824 and release Austin. Santa Anna agrees to reevaluate his actions, then informs Jim that his wife and children have died from a plague. Although he orders his brother-in-law, Gen. Cos, to release Austin, Santa Anna later has Cos garrison the town of San Antonio, making all who have arms surrender them. Austin now believes the only course open is to fight. Jim, however, refuses to join the rebels. Austin repeats his views in Anahuac, where Consuela tells Jeb, who flirts with her, that she is going with her uncle to San Antonio to be with her people. Sometime later, Jim and a group of twenty-five trail one hundred Mexican soldiers. When they learn from Jeb that Texas militia in Conception have Cos and his men cornered, they realize that the soldiers they have followed are reinforcements. They wipe them out, but suffer nine casualties themselves. In San Antonio, though Consuela hears conflicting stories about Jim's allegiance, she expresses trust in his courage and humility to find the best solution for everyone. Following the victory over Cos, Travis is confident, knowing that, although Santa Anna will attack, the famous Davy Crockett of Tennessee will soon arrive with 1,000 men. Consuela, who is now nearly nineteen, stops a fight between Travis and Jim over the question of Jim's allegiance, and Jim tells her she reminds him of his deceased wife. As a report comes in that Mexican soldiers are approaching, Jim questions Travis' leadership and reveals that he is Gen. Sam Houston's personal representative and a colonel himself. The men then elect Jim as their leader, and Travis graciously concedes. After Jim decides that San Antonio must be held at all costs, he asks Travis to command jointly with him. The grizzled, jovial Crockett arrives with only twenty-nine men, but says they are fierce fighters. The Texans then move to a broken-down former mission known as the "Alamo." Jim tries to get Consuela to go to his home, where they can begin a life together later, and they embrace and kiss. Santa Anna and his troops arrive outside the Alamo and request a meeting with Jim. The general warmly greets his friend and asks him to convince the Texans to put down their arms. Jim refuses and says that they do not want a war, but Santa Anna replies that he cannot accept the insult they inflicted when they attacked Cos's troops. Santa Anna offers to take Jim prisoner so that he can live through the battle, but he refuses. Although he says they will take no prisoners, Santa Anna agrees to give safe conduct to the women and children. After Jim returns to the fort, the Mexican soldiers surround it. Consuela and the other women decide to remain to tend to the wounded in the chapel. During the siege, the Mexicans try to break down the Texans' will by alternating three-day attacks with three-day periods of quiet. After Jim is seriously injured, he asks Travis to take command. Jim overhears Jeb tell Consuela that he wants to speak to her uncle about marrying her, but she gently refuses. After the Texans learn from a rider who breaks through that reinforcements will not arrive, Travis gives permission for anyone to surrender, but encourages them to fight and kill as many of Santa Anna's men as possible. All the men decide to stay. Jim writes a letter to Jeb, saying that Consuela's love for him began when she was a little girl and for him to be patient, as he hopes someday they will find happiness together. Travis writes of the men's decision in a letter to Houston, so that other Texans will know about it. Jim then asks Travis to send Jeb with the letter, and although Jeb protests, Jim insists and gives him his own letter to read later. Before the battle, Consuela kisses Jim and cries, then goes with the women to the chapel. The Texans fight fiercely, but the Mexican soldiers invade the fort. Radin is shot, then Travis, and as Crockett is about to be besieged, he lights an explosive and blows himself and his enemies to bits. Jim is stabbed, then dies after killing a number of soldiers entering his room. Following the battle, Houston announces that Santa Anna's strength has been weakened and that the battle has brought them the time necessary to conquer. He says the fight will be remembered through the ages. Jeb, who has reached Houston, learns that the ladies of the Alamo are arriving. He finds Consuela dazed and depressed, but when he touches her hand and looks at her, she cries and embraces him.
Anna Maria Alberghetti
J. Carrol Naish
John Mccarthy Jr.
Capt. John S. Peters U.s.a., Ret.
Dick Tyler Sr.
Herbert J. Yates
The Last Command
Sterling Hayden stars as Jim Bowie, who, yes, is the inventor of the Bowie knife. As the story opens, Bowie lives peacefully in Mexico-owned 19th century Texas. But his American-citizen neighbors, Mike Radin (Ernest Borgnine) and William Travis (Richard Carlson) are itching for secession. Although Radin and Bowie eventually end up in a knife fight (word to the wise - don't get into knife fights with people who invent knives), Bowie winds up siding with the secessionists. This, of course, leads to a showdown at the Alamo, during which 187 men hold off an onslaught of 7,000 Mexicans for nearly two weeks. The narrative builds slowly, but the final battle is terrifically staged, even if you aren't surprised by the outcome.
Historians are always complaining that Hollywood plays loose with the facts, and The Last Command is certainly no different than other Alamo pictures in that regard. It's best to just sit back and enjoy Hayden's gruff performance, and Borgnine's rather inexplicable street-smart presence. No amount of frontier garb could fully take the New York out of this performer. (He seems to forever be digesting a Nathan's hot dog and a beer.) Max Steiner's rousing score is also a big highlight.
You'll probably recall that John Wayne directed and starred in The Alamo (1960), an overblown variation of this story which co-starred Richard Widmark. Wayne had been trying to get the film off the ground for quite a while, and was actually negotiating the deal with Republic, who financed The Last Command. Unfortunately, Wayne wanted to make a much more ambitious (i.e. costly) film than Republic head Herbert Yates was prepared to finance. Some people also believe that Yates insisted on using Vera Hruba Ralston, a former Czechoslovakian figure skater and would-be Republic "movie star," as the Duke's love interest. Wayne had already worked with the marginally talented Ralston on Dakota (1945), and blanched at doing it again. So there went the deal.
But that wasn't the end of Republic's interest in the Alamo. In a move that seemed at least partially designed to get Wayne's goat, Yates rushed The Last Command into production. The film he ended up with certainly can't compete with Wayne's epic in terms of sheer scale, but as Western novelist Brian Garfield notes in his Western Films guide, it has "considerably more verve and drama." Wayne's picture, though visually spectacular, is simply too grandiose and lumbering to sustain much tension. Sometimes, it seems, smaller really is better. Especially if you're the guy putting up the money.
Producer/Director: Frank Lloyd
Screenplay: Warren Duff (based on the story by Sy Bartlett)
Cinematographer: Jack Marta
Editor: Tony Martinelli
Music: Max Steiner
Art Design: Frank Arrigo
Principal Cast: Sterling Hayden (James Bowie), Anna Maria Alberghetti (Consuela), Richard Carlson (William Travis), Arthur Hunnicutt (Davy Crockett), Ernest Borgnine (Mike Radin), J. Carrol Naish (Santa Ana), Ben Cooper (Jeb Lacey), John Russell (Lt. Dickinson), Virginia Grey (Mrs. Dickinson), Jim Davis (Evans), Eduard Franz (Lorenzo de Quesada), Otto Kruger (Stephen Austin), Russell Simpson (The Parson), Roy Roberts (Dr. Sutherland), Slim Pickens (Abe), Hugh Sanders (Sam Houston).
by Paul Tatara
The Last Command
The working titles of this film were Men Who Dared, Texas, Alamo, San Antonio de Bexar and The Texas Legionnaires. The opening credits include the following written statement: "This picture was produced in Texas, U.S.A. by the Republic Studio Organization." According to Los Angeles Times and Daily Variety, John Wayne had wanted to make this film for Republic three years earlier, but because he wanted to shoot it in Mexico and Republic head Herbert Yates wanted it shot in Texas, Wayne left the company and Yates refused to sell him the property. Wayne subsequently produced, directed and starred in his own version, entitled The Alamo, which was released in 1960 (see below). An October 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Allen Rivkin polished the script, when scriptwriter Warren Duff was unavailable in Europe. According to publicity for The Last Command, the set of the fort was built at Fort Clark in southwest Texas. A January 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Bracketville, TX was also a shooting site.
In the publicity material, director Frank Lloyd stated his view concerning the use of fiction in the making of films based on fact: "The addition of fiction to fact is permissible and often dramatically desirable so long as the fiction does not contradict the fact, but is presented as a logical and reasonable development. It is the perversion of facts, not their augmentation, that destroys authenticity." Los Angeles Examiner praised the film's treatment of the subject matter, stating that it "makes a serious attempt to provide a sympathetic understanding of the clash that led to the Alamo." The article also applauded the depictions of the historic figures, commenting, "The character of Bowie is an adult one, and Crockett himself emerges as a human as well as heroic figure." Although his appearance in the film has not been confirmed, a February 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item adds Nestor Paiva to the cast. According to a modern source, Kermit Maynard was also in the cast.
John Wayne's 1960 film The Alamo was the largest production centering on the seige of the Alamo, but the 1953 Budd Boetticher-directed Universal picture The Man from the Alamo, starring Glenn Ford (see below) and the 1955 Disney compilation Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier, directed by Norman Foster for Walt Disney, starring Fess Parker, also centered portions of their plots on the seige.
Winner of a Special Citation by the 1955 National Board of Review for the "action sequences."
Released in United States Summer August 1955
Released in United States Summer August 1955