Saturday, February 3, 2007

THE ALAMO (Batjac Productions 1960) MGM Home Video

John Wayne’s personal project, The Alamo (1960) is a rather arduous and not terribly engaging filmic adventure that stars the Duke as Col. Davy Crockett – a rambunctious patriot whose old world view of right and wrong comes in direct conflict with the more progressive meanderings of Col. William Travis ( Laurence Harvey).
But Crockett’s got it right. It’s 1836, and General Santa Anna and his Mexican army are decimating the Texas plains. In order to provide General Sam Huston the much needed window of opportunity he needs to reclaim his land, Travis has agreed to the ill-fated mission of defending ‘the Alamo’; a small mission in the direct path of Santa Anna’s forces.

The film is perhaps Duke’s sad farewell to the old west he best embodied in films like Stagecoach (1939) and She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1942). Travis knows his defenses are inferior to Santa Anna’s forces – but he is bound by duty to comply with his orders. Crockett, who is no fool, attempts to buy some leverage by enlisting the aid of Jim Bowie (Richard Widmark) – a man who knows first hand just how hopeless their task is.

Wayne’s own production company – Batjac – footed the elephantine bill for this 91 day shoot that employed more than 7000 extras in its epic showdown. Stalwart and sometimes friend/director John Ford bullied his way into shooting second unit, including several key sequences in the Alamo village complex, a standing 200,000 foot complex of permanent structures.

However, casting is a major problem. Laurence Harvey plays Col. Travis with a sort of uppity ‘I dun got too much starch in ma’ britches’ mentality that is both out of touch and not very endearing to his character. Widmark is too well remembered for his endless string of teeming psychotics he played in Fox film noirs of the 40s and 50s to be believable as the valiant crusader along side Crockett in the final reel…and Wayne – yes, the stoic legend of the cinematic ol’ west – is much too old for Crockett at this point in his military career. Running 2 hrs. 42 min., The Alamo outlives its welcome by at least a half hour – its exhilarating finale coming much too late in our expectations for any reserved greatness.

MGM DVD provides a rather inconsistently rendered disc. Though the anamorphically enhanced image can be quite refined with resilient colors, at times the palette is quite faded and dull. Contrast levels appear slightly weak with grayish looking blacks and not terribly clean whites. Fine details can be nicely represented, but on occasion get lost during darker scenes. Several sequences appear to have been sourced from print materials that were in less than stellar condition. The audio is 5.1 but exhibits a rather strident and strained characteristic lacking largely in bass tonality. Extras include a truncated version the documentary produced on the making of the film.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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