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Category:    Home > Reviews > Western > Large Frame Format > Alamo (1960)

The Alamo


Picture: C+     Sound: B-     Extras: C+     Film: B



Among some of the great films from 1960 came John Wayne’s highly controversial directorial debut with The Alamo, his take on the true story of General Santa Anna and the Mexican Army rushing toward the Texas line where the showdown takes place with General Sam Huston.  However, in order to get his troops set Huston must send Colonel William Travis to defend a small mission on the Mexican’s route, and among the small troop are Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett. 


Wayne would take the part of Davy Crockett, which would become one of his more recognizable roles with Richard Widmark playing Jim Bowie and Laurence Harvey as Col. William Travis.  Already a nice line-up of stars, with a fair amount of memorable side roles as well.  Originally, Wayne was only going to play the part of Huston, but he would only be able to get financial backing if he was in the lead role and with this being a 70mm production, he needed all the money he could get. 


There are several things besides the cast that make this a decent production such as the grand epic scale of the film with excellent battle scenes for such an older film.  Even many years later these scenes hold up quite well and actually show some influences from D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (1915) as well as the obvious influence Wayne took after working with John Ford on so many films.  Shooting the film in 70mm also allowed for more detail and a grandiose setting where the tale would be told.  Notice with this large frame format that we see a much more open mise Pathé en scene, which gives the film more depth and certainly more dimension.  Today we are left to mostly close-up shots of action, which takes away from the action and the rapid editing technique is being used to shortcut the viewer by making them think they are seeing more than they are. 


In lie of yet another remake 2004 will see The Alamo on the screen once more with Billy Bob Thorton, Dennis Quaid, and Jason Patric.  Because of this MGM has reissued the 1960 version, but has simply repackaged the old transfer from the initial DVD onto this version.  The front cover no longer features John Wayne, but rather a shot of the fort itself.  It was wise for them to reissue the film, but perhaps unwise not to restore the image and sound for a superb issue.  Instead we get a recycling. 


Apparently this new DVD does feature the film in its longer 162-minute cut; however, on VHS there was a 202-minute version available, which included a longer “Jefferson Speech”, a full overture, intermission, and end theme.  There were a few other extended scenes as well, but for the most part nothing altogether new.  The old DVD features the same Dolby Digital 5.1 mix.  It is doubtful that since the transfer is not taken from the 70mm prints that the soundtrack was not taken from the 6-track magnetic strips.  It certainly does not sound like it as the sound is thinner and almost sounds like the mono was just pushed outward into a 5.1 configuration. 


The Todd-AO 2.20 X 1 anamorphic transfer does not bear or represent any resemblance to this being a great 70mm production as detail, depth, color, and clarity is all undermined by an older, dated, analog transfer that needs major work.  Print damage is very evident and there is a major amount of grain.  Why the longer version featured on 12” LaserDisc is not here is a mystery, as if they are going to recycle old analog transfers, why not that one?  The 70mm negative material was treated with a disastrous rejuvenation fluid prior to that longer version’s film-to-tape telecine transfer, which caused that print to fall into fading damage throughout. William H. Clothier worked on Horse Soldier’s one-year prior with Wayne and would be responsible for the cinematography here as well.  He would continue to do more Westerns for remainder of his career, but this would be the only time he would work on a huge scale film and a 70mm production.  The 1992 Roadshow version of this film has clips which are seen in the documentary on this disc, while restoration hero Robert Harris has been recently trying to save the negative.


For those interesting in more of the behind the film type of material you can check out the documentary located on the DVD called John Wayne’s The Alamo, which does cover some of the details behind bringing this film to the big screen with John Wayne being the director, producer, and star.  This is the same 40-minute documentary that appeared on the LaserDisc that was issued.  This is another one of those films where the story behind its existence is almost as fascination as the film.   Overall, this is a nice follow-up disc, but the transfer needs major restoration and this is a title that would certainly have the following if MGM ever did a Special Edition down the line.  Robert Harris has been trying to get a newly struck print for the entire Roadshow version, which would be the longest cut of the film with its 70mm origins all in tact.  Hopefully the results would be like the Criterion Spartacus or Warner’s My Fair Lady DVD editions.



-   Nate Goss


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