The Alamo
MGM // Unrated // $14.95 // December 19, 2000
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted August 25, 2004
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The Movie

The Alamo. John Wayne's 1960 pet project had a ton riding on it. It seemed that nobody in Hollywood felt that the Duke could pull of a 3-hour retelling of one of the most enduring legends of American, Tejano, and Texan history. To be sure, it's not as if Hollywood felt that Wayne couldn't firmly plant butts in theaters; we're talking about The Duke himself here. He shot Liberty Valance, for crissakes! (OK, two years later, but still...)

No, Wayne's box-office clout was unquestionable. But could he successfully direct an epic-length, big-budget production that would cost upwards of $12 million in 1960s dollars? Studio execs weren't convinced. They'd back the project, but only if he were to step away from the director's chair and use the talents of an established director, like his frequent collaborator John Ford. In order to secure financing, he had to mortgage his homes and secure loans using various assets (including his beloved yacht) as collateral. He was able to convince local Texas businessmen to finance the movie, but only if he would shoot the film in Texas and take on more of a starring role in the film. Wayne ended up directing and starring as the legendary Davie Crockett in a leading role, a dual feat that taxed the first-time director considerably.

The end result? A rousing, entertaining, overlong, maudlin, cloying, exciting, and jingoistic effort that, if not a great movie, certainly ranks as one of the juiciest slabs of cinematic bravado and testosterone ever committed to film. Wayne's direction certainly is creaky around the joints. While he was more than capable of shooting the action scenes with swagger and impact, his handling of character moments and subtle interactions were slightly slacking. There's nothing small about this film, even in the quietest of moments. The heroic scenes are drenched in self-righteous derring-do. The tender moments are bathed in thick orchestrations and wide-eyed simplicity. The action is loud and sweeping and kinetic, and the posturing and constant reinforcement of traditional American frontier bravado and values is handled with the subtlety of a King Diamond video.

The cast is something of a mixed bag. I enjoyed Richard Widmark's portrayal of Jim Bowie, but Laurence Harvey's William Travis seems a little too forced. I found most of Harvey's lines to have been some of the most overwritten and exposition-driven in the film, so perhaps the actor was given too little to work with. And Linda Cristal's portrayal of Flaca is so pious I half-expected her to sprout wings and halo and float away at any given moment. But for all of my criticizing, I still love watchingThe Alamo . For years I never missed the film whenever it came on television, and believe you me watchingThe Alamo on a 3-inch black-and-white TV takes a lot of gumption. John Wayne's film is larger-than-life, a slice of Hollywood magic that unabashedly wears its heart on its sleeve.The Alamo isn't a filet mignon, but it's a damn good serving of prime rib on the bone with a bowlful of drippings. Meaty and delicious, if a tad overdone.



The Alamo is presented in a widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and has been anamorphically enhanced for your widescreen-viewing whoop-de-doo. Overall the transfer presents a positive viewing experience. Colors are generally bright and finely rendered, with the magnificent hues that only a true Technicolor delight can deliver, while only a few scenes seem slightly flat and drab. Image detail is reasonably sharp, displaying fine picture quality. My only complaints lie in the quality of the print used for this transfer. There is noticeable wear, debris, specks, and grain throughout the print. Compression noise is minimal to non-existent, but edge-enhancement is quite evident throughout the transfer. Still, this is the best I've ever seen the film look, and overall this is a positive (if slightly flawed) transfer.


The audio is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, with optional French and Spanish 2.0 soundtracks. This six-channel remastering does a fairly serviceable job in expanding the film's soundfield. Orchestrations sound stronger and broader, and the expanded stage allows for a more engaging audio experience. There isn't much in terms of discrete imaging and pinpoint directionality, and the delivery remains solidly frontstage throughout most of the film. Dialog levels are pleasant if a tad thin at times. The inclusion of the film's original soundtrack would also have been a boon. Still, the soundtrack provides a respectable and occasionally engaging presentation.


The meatiest supplement is the 40-minute documentary entitled John Wayne's "The Alamo". This feature is a thorough look at the genesis, production, and response to the film. There are copious amounts of behind-the-scenes and interview footage featured throughout the documentary, which takes a "no holds barred" look behind the entire production. Overall this is an informative and entertaining documentary, well worth your time

The film's theatrical trailer is also included.

Final Thoughts

Not a perfect film, but always a hugely entertaining one, fans ofThe Alamo will be pleased with this DVD. The film is has never looked or sounded better, and the inclusion of that wonderful 40-minute documentary will further their appreciation of the movie. If anything, I'd like to see the film revisited again, with a remastered transfer, feature-length commentary, and so forth. But if you like your two-fisted action loud, fast, and more than a little simplistic,The Alamo is your DVD. Recommended .

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