THE ALAMO (John Wayne, 1960)

Winning a war (at the Battle of San Jacinto) six weeks after horrifically losing a legendary battle might have provided a coda of sorts to The Alamo; but James Edward Grant, who wrote the film, and John Wayne, who produced and directed it as well as starred as Davy Crockett, keep the focus on the Battle of the Alamo, hence, on the idea of the sacrifices necessary for independence from Mexico and freedom for Texas—and, implicitly, as a rule elsewhere. Imbued with tragic grandeur, Wayne’s first film as director—there would be only one other—achieves a heart-walloping result, especially if one allows Grant and Wayne a consideration we gladly extend to William Shakespeare: our disregard of historical inaccuracies when a dramatic yarn of legendary proportions is afoot.
     One may quibble; after all, the film is also almost entirely superficial, with characterizations so close to caricature that when Richard Widmark’s Jim Bowie breaks down upon learning of his wife’s death the viewer is stunned, taken aback—“Wait a minute!” we think; “Only an actual person could lose a spouse!” Wayne sees only the exterior of his characters, so we are entitled to feel that he isn’t entitled to slip in a “human” moment here and there. Note along the way that the strategic debates between Bowie and martinet William Travis lack all credibility. Richard Boone, though, does best with Gen. Sam Houston.
     But why carp when the film itself is so thrillingly spectacular, drawing upon numerous paintings of the battle, and allowing, much more surprisingly, trenchantly, Goya to exert an influence in dramatic scenes of the night? (William Clothier color cinematographed.) And what about the heartrending nostalgia that is distilled in the aching sound of the film’s famous song, “The Green Leaves of Summer”?

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