The ABC's of Film Noir
The ABC's of Film Noir

The Alamo (1960) Classic Movie Review 49

Linda Cristal - The Alamo (1960)

Linda Cristal – The Alamo (1960)

I'd hate to say anything good about that long-winded jackanapes, but he does know the short way to start a war.

The Alamo (1960) and it is a star-studded epic. This movie was directed, produced, and starred the great American actor John Wayne as Col. Davy Crockett, Richard Widmark as Col. Bowie, and Laurence Harvey as Col. Travis.

Rough Script The Alamo (1960)

Still from The Alamo (1960) snapped by photographer Dennis Stock.

Still from The Alamo (1960) snapped by photographer Dennis Stock.

Today’s movie is a little John Wayne art piece. I’m just kidding. It’s The Alamo (1960) and it is a star studded epic. This movie was directed, produced, and starred the great American actor John Wayne as Col. Davy Crockett. We covered John Wayne in Episode 2 – Chisum (1970).

Another great American actor Richard Widmark played the role of Col. Jim Bowie. Richard Widmark was covered in Episode 23 – The Long Ships (1964). After filming began Widmark was unhappy with his casting. He felt he was too small to play the larger than life Jim Bowie who stood 6 feet 6 inches and made the knife that bears his name famous. After the problem was settled Widmark did a great job playing Travis as slightly angry.

I wanted to give you a little background on the historical Jim Bowie. Natchez, Mississippi was the jumping off point for Texas. Almost a decade before the Alamo Bowie was in Natchez and got into a little scrap. I’m summarizing this from Wikipedia and the link is listed below[i].

On September 19, 1827, a group of men attended a duel on a sandbar in the Mississippi River. This was done to avoid state laws against dueling. Bowie was supporting the Samuel Wells III side. The other side supported Dr. Thomas Maddox In total 17 men were present but only 6 went forward as seconds and witnesses. The two duelists each fired two shots without any injuries. They shook hands and agreed their problem was resolved.

After the duel, the parties were walking back and a man named Cuny called to Crain that it was a good time for them to settle their problem. Crain fired at Cuny but hit Bowie in the hip. Cuny and Crain simultaneously fired with Crain getting hit in the arm and Cuny died probably from a chest wound. The wounded Bowie raised to his feet and with his famous knife drawn charged Crain. Crain cracked Bowie on the head with a pistol butt and Bowie went to his knees.

A fellow by the name of Wright drew his pistol and fired a shot at the dazed Bowie. When the shot missed Wright drew his cane sword, really, he had a sword in his walking cane. Wright stabbed Bowie in the chest but the thin blade stuck in his sternum. Wright was trying to pull the sword out when Bowie grabbed his shirt pulling him down on the blade killing him instantly.

Bowie was shot and stabbed again. Two Blanchard brothers shot at him and he was hit in the arm. When he was spun around by the shot he cut off part of one man’s forearm. Cary fired another shot at Bowie but missed. There were a few more shots, then the anti-Bowie fighters fled.

So that is one thing the real Col. Jim Bowie did before he went to the Alamo to fight the Mexicans.

Laurence Harvey is a British actor that played the role of American Col. William Travis. Harvey was born in Lithuania in 1928 but moved with his family to South Africa in 1934. As a teenager, Harvey enlisted in the South African army during World War II. Harvey served in Egypt and Italy during the war and afterward began acting in South Africa. In the late 40s, he moved to England.

His first film was House of Darkness (1948). He also tried stage acting but that did not end well. Harvey appeared very stiff and aloft on the screen as seen in The Alamo (1960). After starring as Romeo in Romeo in Romeo and Juliet (1954), Warner Bros. gave him a lead in King Richard and the Crusaders (1954).

Harvey returned to British films and had more flops than his. In Room at the Top (1959) Harvey was fantastic. With these kitchen-sink dramas, he was in good company such as Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay, Terence Stamp, and Michael Caine.

Harvey went back to Hollywood and was in Butterfield 8 (1960) with Elizabeth Taylor. The Alamo (1960) was released that same year. His role as Raymond Shaw in The Manchurian Candidate (1962) was amazing. He acted like he was brain-washed as he slept walked through his scenes. His scenes with Frank Sinatra are the reason people write about films.

He has a few roles and honors through the 1960s but the 1970s saw him taking any role he could get. Laurence Harvey died on November 25, 1973, from stomach cancer.

The Alamo (1960) Poster

The Alamo (1960) Poster

Frankie Avalon played the role of Smitty, one of the younger Tennesseans. Avalon came out of the Philadelphia music scene. He was originally a trumpet player and later a vocalist. He did well as a singer and had his biggest hit “Venus” in 1959. His first movie role, Jamboree! (1957), had come two years earlier. By 1960, his record sells were in freefall. He began taking small movie roles such as The Alamo (1960) and Drums of Africa (1963). However, what made him an all-American boy idol were the beach movies he made with former Mousketeer Annette Funicello. The first of these was Beach Party (1963). The formula was simple surfing, girls in bikinis, inept bad guys, comedy, a lover’s quarrel, a up and coming rock band, and a few older stars such as Buster Keaton, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and Vincent Price. These movies cost almost nothing to make and brought in loads of cash. While there were over 30 films in this genre[ii], Frankie and Annette only made eight of these films including the reunion film Back to the Beach (1987). This movie had Bob Denver reprising his television Gilligan’s Island character and someone finally said out loud the Frankie looks more like a Jersey kid than a surfer boy. Currently Avalon is still touring as a singer in revival acts.

Patrick Wayne, the son of JohnWayne played the part of Capt. James Butler Bonham. He was briefly covered in Episode 3 McLintock (1963).

Linda Cristal played the role of Flaca. Born in Argentina, Cristal was a star in Mexico and Italy. She is probably best known to American audiences as Victoria Cannon from television’s “The High Chaparral” 1967-1971. However, I remember as the labor agitator in Mr. Majestyk (1974) with Charles Bronson. She was several other television shows and movies. She returned to Argentina in 1985 and hasn’t acted since.

Joan O’Brien was cast as Mrs. Sue Dickinson one of the Alamo survivors. Joan started out as a singer but made the transition into movies. She may be best known as the over endowed Nurse on the pink submarine in Operation Petticoat (1959). She was only in a handful of other movies including one with Elvis and another with John Wayne. Her last movie was Get Yourself a College Girl (1964). Shortly after that, she retired to raise her children and later she became an executive for Hilton Hotels.

Chill Wills played the part of the Beekeeper. He was briefly covered in Episode 3McLintock (1963).

Ken Curtis played the role of Capt. Almeron Dickinson. However, the world will always know him as Deputy Festus Haggen in “Gunsmoke” 1959-1975. Born in Colorado Curtis was not similar to the characters he often played. His original career was as a singer for the Tommy Dorsey orchestra. He started film work and was in a lot of westerns including some John Wayners such as The Quiet Man (1952), Rio Grande (1950), The Searchers (1956), The Wings of Eagles (1957), and The Horse Soldiers (1959). Other great films include The Long Gray Line (1955), Mister Roberts (1955), The Last Hurrah (1958), and Cheyenne Autumn (1964).

Curtis died in 1991 at the age of 74.

Denver Pyle played Thimblerig (the Gambler). Born in Colorado in 1920 Pyle kicked around a bit from drummer to oil field worker until he joined the Navy at the beginning of World War II. He was wounded at Guadalcanal and discharged in 1943. He started working as a riveter in an LA airplane factory. It was at this time that he began acting in amateur theater. He was spotted by a talent scout and ended up training with Maria Ouspenskaya, of The Wolf Man (1941) fame and Michael Chekhov. Pyle made his film debut in The Guilt of Janet Ames (1947).

In all Pyle had 260 film and television roles. He was on all of the big shows such as Gunsmoke and Bonanza. His relationship with John Wayne lead to his casting in (1959), The Alamo (1960), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), and Cahill U.S. Marshal (1973). Pyle played the Texas Ranger captured by in Bonnie and Clyde (1967) that spit in Bonnie’s (Faye Dunaway) face. He played hillbillies and mountain men in shows such as the “The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams” 1977-1978 and “The Dukes of Hazzard” 1979-1985 where he played the patriarch Uncle Jessie. He died of lung cancer at age 77 in 1997.

Sammy Davis, Jr. asked John Wayne if he could play the role of Jim Bowie’s slave. The producers blocked it apparently because Davis was dating a white actress.

Aissa Wayne, the daughter of John Wayne played Lisa Angelica Dickinson. Her film career consisted of acting in four of her father’s films.

Hank Worden played the Parson. He was briefly covered in Episode 3McLintock (1963).

Olive Carey played Mrs. Dennison. She was covered in Episode 12 – Billy the Kid Versus Dracula (1966).

Richard Boone played the small role of Gen. Sam Houston. This role was to go to John Wayne so he could concentrate on directing the film. However, financial backers insisted that he take the far larger role.

Boone was born in LA and is said to be related to Daniel Boone. Boone drifted as a college student, boxer, and oil-field worked. When World War II came he joined the Navy. Following the war he used his G.I. Bill to study acting. He performed on Broadway and on television. His first film role was the Halls of Montezuma (1950). He began to be regularly cast in westerns and war films. He also tried other roles such as Pontius Pilate in The Robe (1953).

In 1957, he was cast as a cultured gunfighter Paladin in “Have Gun – Will Travel” 1957-1963. He continued to make movies through this time such as The Alamo (1960) and A Thunder of Drums (1961).

In the mid-1960s Boone moved to Hawaii and slowed his working pace. In 1972, he moved to Florida and began working in television again. He was in a Jack Webb-produced series “Hec Ramsey” 1972-1974 based on a tough frontier sheriff who used modern methods to solve crimes. Boone died from throat cancer in 1981.

John Wayne created the Batjac so he could make and direct this movie. His company not only had to pick up a lot of the tab they had to provide the star power of John Wayne. Many people are confused when they see a picture of the Alamo as it looks like a small church. At the time of the battle it was a large walled compound with the chapel just being a small part of the structure. Of course the Texan now call the chapel the sanctuary. Visitors are required to remove their hats and no photography is allowed.

A replica Alamo mission was used for filming. The set was built in Brackettville, Texas. It is reported to have 6 wells that provided 12,000 gallons of water a day, had 5,000 acres of horse corrals, and over a million and a quarter hand mad adobe bricks.

This project, like many John Wayne projects, had a strong conservative slant. Freedom, republic, and liberty were major themes in this project. The script was strongly anti-communist with the Mexican being cast in the role of the bad guys although Texas was a Mexican state in rebellion possibly to access slavery that was outlawed by Mexican law.

Other than a few names there is very little that is historically accurate in this film. So please get your history elsewhere.


At the beginning of the movie a group of riders led by Sam Houston (Richard Boone) arrive at San Antonio for a war conference. Col. Travis (Lawrence Harvey), Capt. Bonham (Patrick Wayne), and Capt. Dickinson (Ken Curtis) are present but Col. Jim Bowie is missing. Houston gives command to Travis and says he needs time to build an army.

Houston leaves and Travis returns to the Alamo Mission to work on defenses. Jethro, a slave goes and wakes the drunken Jim Bowie (Richard Widmark) who is sad he missed Houston. Bowie takes his mounted command to the Alamo. There is an immediate conflict between Bowie and Travis over tactics. Also Travis treats some friendly Mexicans poorly.

The advanced party of Col. Davy Crockett (John Wayne) arrives consisting of Smitty (Frankie Avalon) and Preacher (Hank Worden). It is not long before Crockett, the beekeeper (Chill Wills), and the rest of the Tennessee Volunteers show up. The group heads to cantina and starts whooping it up. Travis comes to the cantina and is charmed by former U.S. Representative Crockett. Crockett says the men don’t know they are in Texas for a fight.

When Crockett leaves the bar he see the beautiful Flaca (Linda Cristal). Flaca is being kept in town by a non-patriot American dandy. Crockett starts angering the man by interfering. When the dandy leave Crockett goes to see Flaca and gets all up in her business offering to help. She boots him. When he leaves the dandy shows up with a gang. Crockett is barely hanging on when Bowie shows up to help. They become instant friends. They get drunk and commiserate about freedom and such.

Flaca shows up and ask to talk to Crockett and rats out the dandy for hiding powder and ball. Crocket, Travis, Beekeeper, Parson, and Smitty liberate the supplies. A very large Mexican army is shown moving closer to the city. Crockett has Flaca write him a letter.

When the group gets to the Alamo Crockett meets Mrs. Sue Dickinson (Joan O’Brien) and her children. They are waiting for a relief column from Goliad commanded by Fanning. Travis wants to fight a guerrilla battle. Crockett uses the faked letter to trick his men into fighting. At the last minute he confesses. The men want to fight anyway. He has Flaca’s stuff packed and he sends her to safety.

The Tennesseans move into the Alamo. Shortly after the lead elements of the Mexican army arrives in town. They ride out under a white flag and demand they surrender or no quarters will be extended. Travis fires the cannon and Crockett and Bowie start to respect him. The Mexican army about 6,000 starts deploying around the Alamo as they arrive. The main force is about 4 days behind. An American patrol comes in and says the Mexican’s have siege guns. Since the American can’t shoot as far they decide to make a raid on the Mexican cannon. They stuff the cannon and blow it to bits. Travis sends out cavalry to support the attack although he did not authorize it. Travis chews Bowie out but Crockett stops them from dueling. Bowie says he and his group are leaving at daybreak. That night Bowie gets a message that his Mexican wife has died. In reality it was two years prior.

In the morning they find that the food is bad and making people sick. Crockett and Bowie lead a night raid and steal Mexican cattle. Crockett sends Smitty away to get a message to Houston thus saving his life. After they get the cattle back Santa Anna arrives. Santa Anna allows the women to leave. Mrs. Dickinson refuses to leave. Jocko tries to leave with his blind wife but she makes him stay. The Mexicans make a frontal assault on the Mission and are driven back with heavy loses. Bowie takes some shrapnel in the leg during the attack.

Capt, Bonham comes in with a message that the relief column has be attacked and killed. Travis does the line in the sand thing and everyone decides to stay with Bowie being the first to cross. Crockett’s men start crossing and he follows.

Smitty makes it to Houston’s camp and delivers the message. Houston has no help to send to the Alamo. The men get all sad and speechafy. Bowie grants Jethro his freedom. He decides to stay.

In the morning the Mexican hit all sides in force. Although the American take a large toll they can’t stop the assault, Bowie is hit and taken to the chapel. Travis is killed in hand to hand fighting. Crockett is killed after taking a bunch with him. Crockett blows the powder as he dies. Bowie fights with two pistols until he and Jethro are killed.

With all the defenders dead the Mexicans release Mrs. Dickson and her children. She sneers at Santa Anna. Smitty watches from a hill top arriving too late to help. He dips his coon skin cap.

World-Famous Short Summary – Three manager end with a bad result

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