‘Alamo’ gets anniversary release

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In the late 1950s, John Wayne hocked just about everything he owned to fulfill his dream of making a movie about the Alamo.

To say he threw himself into the project is an understatement. He produced the film, directed and starred in it. Wayne had such high hopes, he even dared to think that it might pick up a few Oscars. But when ”The Alamo” was finally released in 1960, the historical epic received a lukewarm welcome from critics.

Wayne may have been disappointed, but he wasn’t devastated. He felt all along that he had made ”a pretty good picture” and took some satisfaction in that the movie did go on to receive seven Academy Award nominations, including best picture. Time has proved that the Duke was right. Critical appreciation for ”The Alamo” has grown over the years, and it is easily among the 100 best westerns ever made.

Celebrating the film’s 40th anniversary, MGM Home Entertainment has released a stellar DVD version of ”The Alamo” ($19.98), presented in all its wide-screen (letterbox) glory and its original thunderous stereophonic sound. Included is a 40-minute documentary, ”John Wayne’s Alamo,” which features interviews with some of the surviving cast members, on-location footage and video clips from a 1960 television special about the movie.

Wayne, decked out in buckskin jacket and coonskin cap early in the film, acquits himself well as the good-natured frontiersman Davy Crockett, who leads a band of Tennesseans into Texas, where they join the fight for freedom. Age 51 when filming began, Wayne was just right for the part. The real Crockett was 50 when he made the journey to Texas.

Richard Widmark is fine as another famous frontiersman, Jim Bowie. Laurence Harvey plays Col. William Travis, first in command, as an obnoxious but dedicated officer who realizes the gravity of the situation. Richard Boone’s appearances as Sam Houston are limited but extremely effective.

The focal point of the film, of course, is the 13-day siege of the Alamo, an old San Antonio mission built in the early 1700s. The siege and massacre of Texans by Mexican troops in 1836 is considered one of the pivotal moments in Texas’ fight for independence from Mexico.

– Doug Nye Knight-Ridder Newspapers

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