Review by Michael Jacobson
Wayne, Richard Widmark, Laurence Harvey, Frankie Avalon, Patrick Wayne, Linda
Director: John Wayne
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Widescreen 2.20:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Features: Documentary, Theatrical Trailer
Length: 162 Minutes
Release Date: April 6, 2004
To the south was the Mexican army of Santa Ana…thousands
of rugged, valiant soldiers determined to keep the state of Texas under their
control. To the north was General
Sam Houston, desperately waging a battle against time to build an army strong
enough to liberate the great state. In
between the two stood a humble, ramshackle adobe church manned by 185 men, most
of whom weren’t military, but simple volunteers. Men who knew they wouldn’t survive the onslaught of the
Mexican army that greatly outnumbered them.
Men who could have packed up and left in the face of eminent death.
Men who realized that they could buy precious time for General Houston
with their lives. Men who fought gallantly and vigorously until not a one was
left standing. They lost the
battle, but the thirteen days’ time they ransomed with their blood gave
Houston the time he needed to prepare his army.
Texas would indeed be liberated, and her citizens and the rest of America
would always remember The Alamo.
This is a film that wears its sentiments boldly on its
sleeve…yet you can’t fault it for that.
The story of David Crockett, Jim Bowie, William Travis and a hodgepodge
group of soldiers, frontiersmen and others who chose their fates and willingly
made the ultimate sacrifice can only conjure up images of gallantry, nobility
and bravery. It’s a story that
loudly trumpets the ideals Americans cherish:
freedom, honor, and valor.
John Wayne, despite being one of the world’s biggest
stars, actually struggled for years to realize his dream project which would pay
tribute to the men who died defending the Alamo. He could have seen the movie come to light much sooner, had
he merely agreed to bring in an established director, like long time
collaborator John Ford. But Wayne
was passionate about directing and producing the movie himself, as well as
starring as Davy Crockett. Eventually,
the struggle left Wayne and his long time studio Republic Pictures going their
separate ways. It was going to be a
lot of work, and a lot of personal risk for Wayne.
It turns out, though, he knew what he was doing well
enough. His 30 plus years in the
business gave him just the experience he needed to create the visions he wanted.
His sense of framing in scope ratio
widescreen was impeccable, as was the wide, varying and often expressive
lighting schemes he used. He played
with his images in the dark, using carefully placed firelights to break up his
scenes with shadows and cast a beautiful glow on his foreground objects.
Perhaps most noteworthy of all were his extraordinary action and stunt
sequences…having been in a few of the best ones himself in his career, he was
more than ready to handle the challenge of even the most chaotic and thrilling
Yet, at the heart of the story was the simple men who did
the fighting. There was the
military Colonel Travis (Harvey), who first tried to keep morale up by promising
the men reinforcements that he knew would never come.
He later is forced to reveal the truth about the bleakness of their
situation, yet the men chose to stay and die at his side.
Then there are the two colorful civilian leaders, Jim Bowie (Widmark), a
man handy with a knife and always ready with a bottle, and the legendary
frontiersman Davy Crockett (Wayne), who was a Congressman at the time, but still
led a group of rough and ready Tennessee boys down to Texas for the sake of the
Wayne manages to tell an epic war story with some humor.
There are moments of bickering between Bowie and Travis, as their
clashing ideals create some of the film’s early conflicts.
The colonel asks for Bowie early in the picture.
“He’s indisposed, sir,” his private replies.
“If you mean drunk,” replies Travis, “say drunk.”
“Drunk, sir,” is the response. There
are even moments of daring-do as the Texans sneak into the camp of the Mexican
army after dark to steal some of their cattle to replenish their tainted food
supply. It’s the kind of act of
bravery that leaves you laughing and clapping in your seat.
But the grimness of reality would soon squelch the humor.
It begins when messengers from Santa Ana arrive at the
Alamo to offer the men a chance to evacuate the women and the children before
the siege. In a few simple but
potent scenes, we see the goodbyes and begin to feel the suspense and impending
doom for the men and their fort.
The first attack by the Mexican army isn’t
successful…they brought only a small legion and attacked only from the front.
The Alamo fighters suffered 50 casualties, and were left not with the joy
of victory, but with the dark knowledge that the enemy would be back in a matter
of days, in full force, and attacking from all sides.
They would not succeed a second time.
The siege would last for thirteen days, and when it was
over, none of the gallant men of the Alamo was left alive.
The Mexican army would win the battle, but very quickly lose the war.
General Houston earned the time he needed from the Alamo sacrifice, and
would soon drive the Mexicans out of Texas once and for all.
As I said, given the nature of the story, it can be
forgiven if the picture is overly sentimental at times.
When one hears dialogue about how the word “republic” leaves a lump
in the throat similar to watching one’s baby take a first step, you can’t
help but cringe just a little. But
it was that kind of idealism that led this ragtag bunch of fighting men into
making the conscious choice to die together in the hopes that freedom would come
to fruition for their state. The
Alamo is an impressive entertainment spectacle, but it also honors that
spirit in ways that are very genuine, even if they border on cheesy from time to
For the most part, this is a very impressive anamorphic
transfer from MGM/UA. I mentioned
the variety of lighting schemes used, and generally, the darker fire lit scenes
look extremely good and natural, with excellent detail and light influenced
coloring. The daylit scenes are
bright and beautiful, with excellent color rendering and even stronger image
detail. The print is in mostly good
shape, with only a few noticeable blemishes here and there, and the transfer is
done quite well, with only a smidgeon of visible grain from time to time.
All in all, for a 40 year old film, I found The Alamo quite
This movie won an Oscar for sound, and this is one of the
best 5.1 mixes of an older soundtrack I’ve heard on DVD!
For starters, it really is a genuine multi-channel mix—not like some
older pictures which merely spread the sound around a little bit.
When the horses charge the camera, you can hear the smooth crossover from
front to rear stage in both straight and diagonal directions.
The audio is extremely dynamic, too, from the tremendous roars of the
battle scenes to the potent score by Dimitri Tiomkin.
The lows are very clear, though soft, but when it gets loud, watch out.
The sound of the Mexican army’s drums is almost too much at the
picture’s most suspenseful moment. An
extraordinary effort all around!
The disc contains a trailer and a very informative and
entertaining documentary titled “John Wayne’s Alamo”, which
features recent interviews with cast and crew members, behind the scenes
footage, and even shots of the Duke himself discussing his project.
True to the familiar battle cry, the Alamo will never be forgotten…it is as much a part of American folklore as anything that could be called to mind from our country’s brief history. The movie The Alamo is a fitting tribute to its subject matter…big, bold, powerful and entertaining, and marks an impressive first directing credit for John Wayne. This quality disc makes this one no lover of the classics should pass up.