Directed by John Wayne
Epic / Western / Drama
John Wayne as Col. David Crockett
Richard Widmark as Col. James Bowie
Laurence Harvey as Col. William Barret Travis
Frankie Avalon as Smitty
Patrick Wayne as Capt. James Butler Bonham
Linda Cristal as Flaca
Joan O'Brien as Mrs. Dickinson
Chill Wills as Beekeeper
Joseph Calleia as Juan Seguin
Ken Curtis as Capt. Almeron Dickinson
Carlos Arruza as Lt. Reyes
The Alamo trailer
It is 1836 and America is fighting to liberate Texas from the iron fist of General Santa Anna. While General Sam Houston rushes to assemble an army, Santa Anna heads north with soldiers to put down the rebellion. General Houston orders Col. William Travis to take command of a run-down fort known as the Alamo. Houston knows that Santa Anna needs to pass the fort to get to the rebellion and its position provides a perfect bottleneck to slow Santa Anna’s troops down. Travis must hold the fort with his 27 soldiers and attempt to rally the local ranchers to his aid. The ranchers are led by Col. James Bowie, a hard drinking, independent man, and although he has large lands to protect, constantly is at odds with the aristocratic Travis, making leadership more difficult than it should be. Juan Seguin, who enjoys considerable favor with the ranchers, scouts and reveals that Santa Anna’s men are closer than expected. Although Travis believes Seguin, he downplays the danger to his men, believing that they would desert their posts if they knew the truth. Col. David Crockett and his band of Tennessee sharpshooters arrive in town and head to the saloon. Travis seeks him to enlist his aid, which is Crockett’s plan. However, his men also do not know the gravity of the situation, instead believing they are searching for adventure. Crockett, previously a Senator, is keenly aware of the aspirations to make Texas a state, but this has not been made public knowledge. While in town, Crockett strikes up a romance with a tragic young Mexican lady, Flaca, whose family has been killed by Santa Anna’s men and she is trying to resist pressure from him to marry Emil Sande, a merchant who has supported General Santa Anna. Flaca refuses when Crockett offers to help, but does tell Crockett of a cache of ammunition Emil is hiding for Santa Anna in the basement of the church. Crockett, Bowie, and their men go to liberate the supplies, and are forced to kill Emil in the process. Although their relationship is growing, Crockett sends Flaca north to protect her, even if it means he will never see her again. Discussing tactics, Bowie believes the best tactic would be to use hit and run guerrilla tactics, but he is unable to persuade either Travis or Crockett to use his idea. Instead both men believe using the Alamo to fend off attacks is the better strategy. Crockett goes so far as to forge a letter from Santa Anna telling the men to disburse because he knows it will embolden his men’s resolve. Even though the letter is a ruse, it is not far from the mark, as shortly thereafter an emissary from Santa Anna arrives to issue a similar demand. While the emissary is speaking, Travis uses his cigar to ignite one of the cannons, driving the emissary off. Mexican soldiers arrive and begin to take up positions; however, Travis predicts that they will not attack for a few days until Santa Anna arrives with heavy artillery and supplies. Bowie becomes convinced that the situation is a lost cause and decides to take his men and leave when Capt Bonham, a scout, arrives with word that they will be receiving 1,000 men as reinforcements from a nearby fort. This encourages Bowie, and he decides to stay. Unfortunately for Bowie, he is unaware that Bonham was ordered by Travis to lie to the men, and they are actually going to be receiving far less troops as reinforcements. Tensions in the camp mount, almost leading to a duel between Bowie and Travis, but Crockett is able to keep the peace, telling the men to work it out after they deal with the Mexican Army amassing on their position. Crockett confronts Travis about his orders, and Travis admits that his orders are to stall the Mexican army to buy time for Houston. Depressed at the news, and the belief that Bowie is going to leave for home the next day, Crockett gets drunk and sleeps well into the next day. In the morning, Seguin manages to sneak some soldiers into camp, which aids the camp’s deteriorating morale. The situation between Travis and Bowie become even tenser when a message is delivered directly to Bowie, bypassing Travis, who becomes furious at the breach of protocol. Travis is forced to apologize when he learns that the message Bowie received was a report of Bowie’s wife’s death. With the camp running low on food and plagued with an outbreak of dysentery, Travis commands his men to raid the Mexican army’s supplies, making off with several cattle and a good horse. The horse is needed for the scout, Smitty, to ride hard to Houston with word of their predicament. Santa Anna arrives and allows the women and children to leave, but a few stay out of their loyalty to the resistance. Once the civilians that are willing to leave have done so, Santa Anna attacks the town in earnest, killing 50 of the American soldiers that are defending the Alamo. Among them is Crockett’s good friend Parson, and Crockett prays for their survival, or at least for history to remember them as good men. To make matters worse, the men receive word that their reinforcements have been ambushed, and will not be able to help. With the situation grim, Travis levels with the men, explaining their situation, and what their mission is. Travis tells them that they will not be able to hold the fort for very long, but they can at least stall Santa Anna long enough to cost him the war. At first Bowie and Crockett are unconvinced and appear ready to lead their men away from the Alamo, but one by one, they and their men decide to stand with Travis and delay Santa Anna for as long as they can. Smitty delivers the message to Houston, who is unable to help but offers his prayers that their sacrifice be remembered. Smitty leaves to return to the Alamo, forgoing food and rest so he can fight with his friends and brothers-in-arms. That night at the Alamo, the men talk about what they might expect in the hereafter, and Bowie frees his old slave Jethro so that he can escape. However, once free, Jethro decides to stay and fight alongside the soldiers. The next day the fighting is fierce as the Mexican army surges over the walls of the Alamo. Crockett sets fire to the ammunition stockpiles, causing a huge explosion to prevent the Mexican army from capturing the supplies. Bowie sells his life dearly, fighting with two pistols from the infirmary where he was taken after he was wounded earlier. Smitty returns, but he can see from a distance he is too late, the Alamo has fallen.
The Alamo was John Wayne’s directorial debut, and the only movie that he directed by himself. John Ford offered to assist, and Wayne gave him a second unit to film the Mexican Army out in the desert. However, Wayne was unhappy with the footage and ordered the scenes reshot, and Ford’s footage was largely unused. However, Wayne never had the heart to tell John Ford.
John Wayne wanted Richard Widmark to play Crockett, and Wayne intended to play Sam Houston. The smaller role would leave Wayne free to direct. However, Wayne could only get financial backing if he was in a starring role, so he took the role of Crockett and gave Widmark the role of Bowie.
Laurence Harvey was wounded during one of the battle sequences when a cannon rolled over his foot, breaking it badly. He continued to film the scene.
John Wayne wanted to use the song “Remember the Alamo” by the Kingston Trio, but he could not get the rights to do so.
Charlton Heston turned down the roll of Jim Bowie. When pressed for why, his main reason was that John Wayne was directing the movie. Later in life, Heston regretted turning down the role, calling the decision, “a huge mistake.”
Sammy Davis Jr. wanted to play one of the roles of a slave, but he was denied because many of the influential Texan’s that were financing the movie would not have approved since he was dating a white woman, May Britt, at the time. When questioned about the incident, Davis was quoted thusly, “There were a lot of influential Texans investing in the film and they didn't like the idea that I was seeing May Britt at the time. They disapproved of a man of color going out with a girl who was white, though Duke was up front with me about it and I respected him for it"
The movie was banned in Mexico.
Clark Gable was offered the role of Crockett but turned it down. He stated his reasons for declining as not having confidence in such a big movie with an inexperienced director. Later he regretted the decision, as doing such a “Macho role” would have allowed him to escape the romantic lead typecasting he found himself in after Gone With the Wind.
John Wayne and Richard Widmark did not get along well during filming. The two stars held diametrically opposed political viewpoints and most assumed that was the source of the conflict. However, Widmark insisted that his point of contention was Wayne’s inexperience as a director, something that was also mentioned by Ken Curtis who stated that Wayne had no ability to motivate an actor for a scene.
Richard Boone showed up on the first day of shooting with a large beard that he had grown for the role of Sam Houston. Wayne had to inform him that Houston did not have a beard.
Chill Wills led a vigorous campaign to win Best Supporting Actor for his role in the film, even going so far as to take out an ad in Variety that stated that the films cast were praying harder for him to win the award than the soldiers who fought the battle of the Alamo were praying the night before the battle. Wayne was so appalled by the tastelessness of the ad he took out his own ad to counter it. After the outcry, Wills’ press agent took full responsibility for the ad, stating that he published it without Wills’ knowledge.
Wayne fought a hard battle to secure funding for the film, and eventually had to put up much of the money on his own. He took out second mortgages on his homes and put secured loans on his cars and his yacht. Although the film was rather successful at the box office, it didn’t make much due to its high cost, and Wayne lost a great deal of his investment. It wasn’t until the television rights to the film were sold in 1971 that Wayne was finally able to recover his losses.
The Alamo set, which has been dubbed 'Alamo Village', has appeared in over 100 films, and is now a tourist attraction with shows and shops, open to the public. The amazing set took over two years to build. Wayne used the original blueprints from the Alamo to design the set, although the set was offset 180 degrees from the real Alamo, meaning that although the front of the chapel faces west in the actual Alamo, it faces East on the set. Wayne consciously did this so he could shoot several dawn scenes at sundown instead, making filming significantly easier on the cast and crew.
In the film, Bowie sports a gun known as a Nock Volley gun, a monstrous seven barrel rifle that was designed by the British navy to sweep decks of enemies or destroy masts and rigging. The gun was considered an unsuccessful design due to the recoil generated by all seven barrels firing at once.
Wayne originally planned to film the movie in Mexico, as had been done with many previous westerns principally to save money. However, he was persuaded not to by a campaign by The Daughters of the Republic of Texas who sent him a letter stating that if he did so, he had better not show the movie in Texas. Wayne also hunted for locations in Peru, and although he did not shoot the movie there, he did find his third wife, Pilar, during the search.
The film originally clocked in at 210 minutes, but when it debuted it was only 192. Wayne had the footage removed due to the restlessness of moviegoers during the test screenings.
An extra in the film, La Jean Ethridge who portrayed 'Mrs. Guy', was murdered on the set by her boyfriend, who was also an extra.
Historically, the 189 defenders at the Alamo killed between 1,000 and 1,700 Mexican soldiers before they were killed. Although Santa Anna declared the battle a glorious victory, an aid is reported to have said afterwards, “One more such glorious victory and we are finished.”
The Alamo was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Chill Wills), Best Cinematography (Color), Best Film Editing, Best Musical Score, Best Song (The Green Leaves of Summer) and Best Sound. The Alamo only won one of the nominations, however, for Best Sound.