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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Civil War > Alamo (Delta DVD Documentary Set)

The Alamo Delta Set


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



Whenever a big film release on a historic subject is due in movie theaters, you can expect several DVDs to capitalize on the event.  The most recent example is of the Disney-produced Alamo (2004), which has nudged M-G-M to repackage their basic DVD of the 1960 John Wayne film, while VCI has released the Jim Bowie TV series, and A&E issued their own double set in conjunction with their sister History Channel (all three are reviewed elsewhere on this site).  However, the set with the most content and impact is a 3 DVD offering from Delta.


It takes three stand-alone DVDs that are all interesting on their own and brings them together in what can only be described as a sort of “Alamo Mania” and can certainly fulfill the interests and curiosities of the biggest fanatics.  While the Disney film is a critical and financial disaster, the Wayne film sorely needs a special edition and the A&E/History Channel set ties in with Disney’s films, the Delta set is the one that really digs in and gets its hands dirty in all kinds of rare and interesting pieces of the that historic event and the phenomenon it has unleashed during the 20th century that comes and goes in waves.


The Alamo Documentary (2004) offers a great number of historians going into great detail about the history of the battle, early film versions, and the peak resurgence after World War II.  Because it is history, Disney may have had a huge TV hit with their Davy Crockett and some of the strongest early licensing success known to TV or film, but plenty of companies also issued Alamo items in much the way James Cameron’s 1997 film Titanic launched big sales beyond tie-ins to the film.  The historians have many of these great and valuable items on hand, but instead of this becoming an Antiques Roadshow guide, using it to show just how big the phenomenon really was.  I learned more from this than just about anything else I have seen on the event to date, and it is always interesting.  Extras include the “educational” Remember The Alamo (Eastin Pictures, 1938, 42 minutes), a trailer for Wayne’s Alamo and a look at the weapons and uniforms (6:51).


The Martyrs Of The Alamo (1915) starts DVD 2 and is a sister work to D.W. Griffith’s Birth Of A Nation the same year, a film recently voted the worst historical film of all time by Cineaste Magazine.  I consider it one of the all-time great propaganda films and this Alamo-variant desecrates Mexicans and its audience with the same hatred and ignorance as other Griffith-affiliated silent films of the period.  Griffith did not direct it, but his name is on the film and the 72-minutes-long work only happened because of him.  Desecrating the film itself is a silly electronic organ score, but it is still a key surviving piece of early Alamo mythos and is included here for completists.  Extras include The Alamo: Shrine Of Texas Liberty Lost & Found, about a film recently found in 1999 after decades of being considered lost.  The 1938 production is a very low-budget film with narrative voice over that is better than one would expect.  It is also included here in all of its unintentionally funny glory, but is worth a look, running only 15:29.  The Spirit Of Independence (1976) is a Bicentennial production that mixes very inexpensive animation with hand-drawn still art.  The color has not held up well, looking like EastmanColor about to go bad, but is a brief short at under five minutes.


Heroes Of The Alamo (Columbia Pictures, 1937) leads off the third DVD, offering an obnoxious mix melodrama and hate-bating propaganda about being “an American” and showing Mexicans in a bad light, but then this was the studio who backed Frank Capra, so what does one expect.  The only extra is a 36-minutes-long fragment of the 1926 silent film Davy Crockett & The Fall Of The Alamo, which also is the only silent material on all three DVDs that has any tinted material.  It includes a piano score that is not bad, and certainly more tolerable than the stuffy, electronic scores home video brought us on too many silent releases to “sex them up” as it were.  What is here is amusing and all the Alamo battle sequences actually survived.  We will never know if that was the only good thing the film had going for it, but even incomplete, this was the best and most interesting of all the past live action material.


The full frame image stays that way, except for the letterboxing of the Wayne Alamo trailer, at roughly 2.20 X 1.  The newest video is slightly soft, current NTSC professional analog video, while older footage is often monochrome.  The sound is offered in PCM CD Stereo for the newer material, and Mono for the older films and film clips.  This is a plus in the older cases, as the sound is already aged, so going the Dolby Digital compression route would only worsen the situation.


That all adds up to a good reference-quality package that should make up for the disappointment of the newest film release.  If you are interested in the subject and have had problems which DVDs to pick up, include this at the top of your list.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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