A Movie A Day: Quint remembers THE ALAMO (1960) Indisposed? By God if you mean drunk, you say drunk, sir!
Published at: July 6, 2008, 11:32 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Today we continue our John Wayne kick, started by yesterday’s THE COWBOYS.
I moved to Texas when I was 12 years old, leaving my Bay Area home. In my mind I pictured Texas to be nothing but cowboys, deserts, vultures and cacti as far as the eye can see. Of course, central Texas, specifically the Austin area, is green, hilly and lush. In many ways Austin was also more liberal than the small California town I grew up in.
But Austin is a proud part of Texas and when I entered the Texas school system I was a little surprised how much time we spent on Texas history, specifically the legend of The Alamo. I don’t remember if it was a full 6 weeks, but it was definitely a month or more spent studying the Alamo.
It’s a fascinating story, a true piece of American legend.
I don’t know if I put off seeing this movie from start to finish (I mean, who hasn’t seen this movie in pieces, clips and snippets?) because I was already familiar with the story or if it was just one of those things that was always going to happen “later.” But I had my first sit-down with the flick.
THE ALAMO is not a perfect film. The production was notoriously troubled (I’ll share a story I heard from someone who worked on the film at the end), but it was a passion project for John Wayne. He had been working on the film for nearly a decade and even left Republic Pictures over this film.
This was Wayne’s first (credited) time directing and from what I understand he sunk a lot of his own money to finish the film and it took him nearly a decade to recoup his investment.
You can tell this film meant a lot to Wayne. You can see it in his performance as Davy Crocket, you can feel it in the respect he has for all the characters within the walls of The Alamo, almost to a fault.
It could be the troubles Wayne underwent during the production or his green directing, I couldn’t tell you which, if either, but the flick is a little clunky, a bit miscast and there are some incredibly bad line deliveries, but even with all that the film wears its heart on its sleeve, which gives it not only a charm, but commands a little respect.
Seeing Laurence Harvey as William Travis took me a bit, but when all was said and done I think he did the best job out of the entire cast, playing the character easiest to dislike yet still making him sympathetic. What Harvey brought to Travis was nobility.
Wayne as Davy Crockett isn’t the best casting, but Wayne plays it for all it’s worth.
I thought Chill Wills was godawful in this movie, though. He's everything people tell me they hate about Walter Brennan in RIO BRAVO (goofy, out of place, etc), except without Brennan's comic timing and likability... at least in this movie.
The best thing I can say about the group is that when the finale comes, I was sad to see them go.
Even if the film itself has some flaws, one aspect is completely outstanding and that is Dimitri Tiomkin’s score. It’s as big as Texas and really drives the films, making the battle scenes that much more intense and giving the quiet moments character. Genuinely awesome score.
The version of the film I watched was not the director’s cut, making the already 2 hour and 45 minute long movie well over 3 hours. That version is not available on DVD as far as I know, but I believe this was the US Theatrical cut. I’m sure the director’s cut probably smoothes over some of the bumpy editing choices a bit more, but I can’t say.
Now, the story I heard from a friend who worked on THE ALAMO… Bob Burns is known to creature feature fans as the guy who cares for many awesome props… I’ve visited his basement a couple of times and seen the David Werewolf, the original Gizmo, the life-size Alien Queen, the actual Time Machine, etc.
But Bob’s collection is only half the reason I visited. Bob himself and his wife, Kathy, are two wonderful people who have spent the better part of recent film history in and out of productions.
Bob told me a story about how he was in the Army when Wayne was filming the Alamo and was granted leave in order to help him on the pyrotechnics (meaning cannonball explosions in the ground, etc) and was on the set when a young woman was murdered by her boyfriend.
That part is known, but I had never read anything about how hard that hit Wayne. Apparently, Wayne picked this girl, LeJean Eldridge, out of the extras to have some lines in the film. He was smitten with this girl and that was well known around the set. The way I heard it, another extra was infatuated with her. IMDb and other trivia sources say this guy was her boyfriend, but as Bob told it he was just another extra who was jealous of Wayne’s feelings towards this girl and the attention she was getting. Wayne was certain she would be a huge star.
So, when this guy flew off the handle and murdered her in a jealous rage, the production shut down and Wayne took it incredibly hard.
I don’t know any other specifics… like who she was to have played in the film or how long Wayne knew her, but it was a big deal.
Final thoughts: While I say this movie is a little on the clunky side, with some iffy performances, it is still, by far, the most entertaining and involving movie about the Alamo I’ve seen (yes, this includes the incredibly dull IMAX movies).
The schedule for the next 7 days is:
Monday, July 7th: SANDS OF IWO JIMA (1950)
Tuesday, July 8th: WAKE OF THE RED WITCH (1949)
Wednesday, July 9th: D.O.A. (1950)
Thursday, July 10th: SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943)
Friday, July 11th: THE MATCHMAKER (1958)
Saturday, July 12th: THE BLACK HOLE (1979)
Sunday, July 13th: VENGEANCE IS MINE (1974)
While we have at least 20 John Wayne movies on the master list I’m doing my best to break them up so we don’t wear out their welcome… also trying to avoid them all blending together in my memory when I think back to them. But we have two more Wayne flicks to go before we finish with this run. Tomorrow we break out of the old West and see Wayne in the WW2 flick SANDS OF IWO JIMA (1949). See you folks then.