1960 / Best Picture / Best Supporting Actor

Film #238: The Alamo (1960)

Every year critics seem to get increasingly tired of the petty squabbling and lobbying that occurs to get certain films onto the Best Picture shortlist. However this is nothing new and at the 1961 ceremony, John Wayne did his fair share of lobbying to get as many nods as he could for his pet project The Alamo.

Indeed The Alamo ended up getting a Best Picture nomination over more deserving films such as Psycho and Spartacus. Wayne, who acted as director as well as star and producer, obviously thought the tale of The Alamo was one worth telling but after seeing the film I’m not entirely sure why. As you can imagine from the title, the film essentially tells the story of the lead up to the battle of The Alamo. The three men in charge of the mission have different philosophies and this also plays into the film’s narrative. Firstly there’s William Travis a fairly stoic soul who wants things done the proper way and wants his men to learn to fight rather than drink and be merry. Then there’s the alcoholic Jim Bowie who resents Travis’ nature and believes himself to be the more experienced official. Finally there’s legendary Davy Crockett, played by Wayne, who arrives at The Alamo to bring his men to fight alongside the Texans. The plot sees the three men attempt to bond and formulate a strategy to try and take down the Mexican forces. The final part of the film sees the battle itself and watches the three men in action as the Mexicans attempt to overpower them and take The Alamo.

I wasn’t surprised when I learnt that The Alamo didn’t recoup the money that was spent on it as to me it was a fairly dreary film. At over two and a half hours I really didn’t feel that it was well-paced and there were far too many scenes of men in rooms just talking to each other. I feel that part of the failure of the film is Wayne’s direction which isn’t particularly exciting which means that The Alamo pales in comparison to some of Wayne’s earlier westerns. In fact the only memorable scenes in the entire film are in the final act where we get to see the actual Battle of The Alamo itself. I believe that these would be the scenes that audiences at the time would’ve come to see though I reckon they would’ve resented having to sit through two hours of talking in order to get that far. In terms of casting the only one of the three leads that brings anything to the table is Laurence Harvey as the professional Travis. Harvey was recruited by Wayne after Room at the Top and this was his first major vehicle as a star. Wayne meanwhile is miscast as Crockett as it really is hard to buy him as a leader of men especially at this late stage of his career. The only acting nomination the film received was for Chill Wills who plays Beekeeper who is the comic relief of the film. It’s plain to see that the only reason The Alamo would get a Best Picture nod is through heavy lobbying and that’s obviously what’s happened. It’s just a shame that some of the other films released in the same year didn’t qualify because John Wayne through his weight around and got awarded for it.


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