CRACKING THE SWORD
Foppish, pre-anorexic and all too often spotless in cream-colored trousers and straw hat, Laurence Harvey, usually one of moviedom’s most reliable contemporary cads, is ridiculously miscast as South Carolina’s Lieutenant Col. William Barret Travis in the John Wayne 1960 epic The Alamo. Yet he has one quick bit making this flag-waving botch worth seeing: as the Alamo is being overrun by Santa Anna’s troops and they’re shooting or bayonetting one American hero after another in Wayne-directed kissoffs, and knowing his own end is near after being stabbed and pumped with a few rounds of rifle fire, Harvey cracks his sword over his knee and throws half of it at his killers. Shameful to laugh so hard, but we have to be very thankful. (Larry didn’t take any guff from Wayne who, half-jokingly calling his co-star “the English fag,” not only liked him, he also enjoyed his taste in fine wines, champagne and caviar delivered to the Texas hellhole they were shooting in and became an imbiber of Bullshot, Larry’s specialty made from vodka, beef consommé and lime.) Richard Widmark’s farewell gets a load of chuckles, too, as does a Chill Wills look-alike who ain’t goin’ down alone—taking two Mexicans along for the fall. These screamers and other moments were previously seen in 1955’s The Last Command, Frank Lloyd’s economized tale of the battle meant to star Wayne; we’ll leave it to the litigators to decide the degree of theft. Composer Dmitri Tiomkin is at his usual in overusing the brass instruments, and his “Tennessee Babe” hits a new low for inappropriate use and nearly causes upchucking when we hear the lyrics “sugar won’t melt in your mouth,” while his Oscar-nominated “The Green Leaves of Summer” would be pleasingly melodic were it not for a few too many variations. The whole score seems a primer for The Alamo the Musical. A great last shot—the fortress in twilight. Wayne stirred up a fuss with his right-wing God & Guns Oscar campaigning, which he attempted to disavow, though it helped garner seven nominations. Columnist Sidney Skolsky quipped, “It appears more people voted for The Alamo than have seen it.” The 202 minute roadshow engagements did not do well; in Chicago, for example, opening at the Palace in late October, 1960, the patriotic hash barely made it through the Xmas season, closing weeks before box office-inducing noms were announced. Harming the initial rollout was the decision of United Artists executives to substitute a shorter version after critics bitched about length, infuriating big city audiences who bitched about being expected to pay full roadshow prices. (A few theater managers and projectionists quietly avoided the studio cut and accompanying ruckus by not running reel 9B—the “birthday party” sequence—minus complaints.) The “popular prices” run, with a Wayne-approved cut of thirty minutes, did much better. Filmed in TODD AO. At every level, the story behind the trouble-filled making of the movie is more interesting than anything on screen. Here’s a link to read: http://widescreenmovies.org/WSM02/alamo.htm
Oscar win: best sound. Oscar noms: best picture, supporting actor (Wills), color cinematography, film editing, best scoring for a dramatic or comedy picture, best song.
ROLL OVER IMAGE
Text COPYRIGHT © 2000 RALPH BENNER All Rights Reserved.