It’s not often that I report on something without having exact information surrounding it, but I have stumbled upon something that could be very exciting for fans of historical film epics. When the 150th anniversary of the Civil War came around, a director’s cut of Gods and Generals was finally released after such a long period of time that people had given up hope we would ever see it. Another recent historical film, The Alamo (2004), has also gone many years without even so much as a Blu-Ray release, much less a release of the director’s cut version. With the 175th anniversary of the siege and battle of the Alamo commemorated last year, one would have thought it was a now-or-never type situation, but we heard nothing, not even a whisper. All hope died down yet again…until now. According to Blu-Ray.Com, there is in fact a movie titled The Alamo being released (date and intricate details TBA), but there is some conflicting information as to exactly which film it is. If you visit the page, you will notice that the technical information (production company, year, running time, etc) are for the 2004 John Lee Hancock version, while the cast listed is for the 1960 epic directed by and starring John Wayne. Neither film has ever been released in this format, so it’s anyone’s guess at to which one is coming out now, unless you want to fantasize about a combo pack, which would make everyone happy.
It’s time for a poll to take the pulse of Copperhead Nation, so I shall ask you all a very simple question: which actor or actress appearing in the film are you most looking forward to seeing? Though I am a fan of Jason Patric, having seen him in The Lost Boys, The Beast, and The Alamo, I can actually picture him in his role as a stubborn and righteous farmer caught up in the turmoil of the Civil War. I do not know why, but it just fits him well—though I do not know the intricacies of the plot, I can see him quite clearly performing as he is expected. Therefore, it is actually Angus Macfadyen, and not the New York-born Patric, who I really am eager to catch a glimpse of, whether it be a behind-the-scenes picture, or a little bit down the road, in the trailer and eventual film. Macfadyen is probably the most recognized actor in the cast, because, quite frankly, who hasn’t seen Braveheart? “Every man dies, but not every man really lives,” and you surely have not lived until you have seen that film, which includes his exquisite performance as Robert the Bruce. I shall save my full characterization of both he and Patric for a later time, but for now, I just have to say that I cannot get his depiction of the Scottish Noble out of my mind, perhaps because it is the only film I have seen him in. The highly talented actor of Scottish descent has to work through a lot on his plate to become an 1860′s Upstate New Yorker, but I think he can get the job done…don’t you? So there, long story short, that is my reason.
Thanks to a reader who just sent me this article from a French-Canadian news outlet, it appears that the very popular actor Francois Arnaud from Quebec has also landed a role in Copperhead. The complete cast list has not yet been furnished, as work on their IMDB page is still ongoing, so you can expect little updates like this until it happens. The website notes that Arnaud has become very well-known to English-speaking audiences due to his lead role in the highly acclaimed television series The Borgias. Another cast-member, Agustus Prew, has also worked on that show, while actress Lucy Boynton has starred in a British version, simply named Borgia. Along with Jason Patric who has appeared in The Alamo and Angus Macfadyen in Braveheart, it is nice to see so many actors who have experiences playing historical figures. Arnaud will be portraying a character named Warner Pitts, so hopefully, he will be able to get the American accent down-pat.
Blu Ray technology has done some amazing things over the course of the last few years, both for the visual and audio experience of seeing a movie as it was meant to be seen, save of course for actually seeing a screening in a movie theater. Though in my last article about Blu Rays, I knocked them a little bit for sometimes not living up to standard (it still amazes me that some films from the 1940′s have better clarity than those made within the last 20 years), ultimately, they have been a pleasant surprise, at least to me, a person that has always been skeptical of new technology and the controlled obsolescent world we live in today. That said, some of my favorite films, as you may very well gather, are war movies, and the HD spectacle that Blu Ray brings is the ultimate treat, because you can see the dripping of blood and grains of dirt on the soldiers’ uniforms, as well as hearing bullets zipping through the air, or the roar of a helicopter engine. All of these items play into the realism, and it is because of this that I make the humble suggestions below, for three war movies that have not experienced a transformation through re-release, to finally have their day. These are three movies that many of us would kill to see in high-definition, and I only hope the interest is out there to make it happen.
3. The Alamo (2004)
Like many of us did for Gods and Generals, in waiting eight years for a director’s cut, there are many of us waiting for one for this film as well. While when the film first came out, there was a lot of promise and hope (including director John Lee Hancock saying he would have the release of a cut put into his contract if he ever directed another film for Disney), it all seems completely dead now, especially with the 175th anniversary of the siege and battle coming without even so much as cough from a studio executive. So, if this is the case, could we at least be gifted with a Blu Ray release of the theatrical version? Despite all its flaws (the more historically accurate one claims a movie to be, the more people find things wrong with it), and the demystification of our heroes, it is still a very good film. Billy Bob Thornton plays one of the best roles in his career, and while I cannot get myself to utter that Hancock is a good director, the cinematography of this movie is superb. There are swooping camera shots, fantastic sets, and a wonderful battle scene (night-time battles look great on Blu Ray, just throwing that out there), and those three should be reason enough to give this film another go. I do not think it is too much to ask for, considering the enormous market in Texas alone, with the rest of general history buffs coming at a close second.
2. The Alamo (1960)
Slowly but surely, it seems that all of John Wayne’s more popular movies are getting the Blu Ray treatment, which actually gives this fifty year old flick a better chance of a release than the one that came within the last decade. Though this film is anything but accurate, it is a classic and war movie of epic proportions. The film erred when it depicted the final battle as taking place during the day, but the visual spectacle that ensued is a part of cinematic history. There are thousands of extras, great pull-away shots, and of course, the many different colors of the Mexican army uniforms. The film on DVD itself was pretty well-preserved, so this seems like a no-brainer. There is a director’s cut of this film too, however, but has only been released to VHS, because the poor quality of the deleted scenes would stick out like a sore thumb if transferred to a clearer medium. Nevertheless, I would buy this the first day it came out. The performances are top-notch, and the story is definitely something to remember.
1. Waterloo (1970)
Are you an aspiring director who needs inspiration on how to film a battle scene? Well, look no farther than Sergei Bondarchuk’s masterful adaptation of the climactic Napoleonic struggle at Waterloo, between Wellington (the outstanding Christopher Plummer) and Napoleon (an overly dramatic Rod Steiger). Though the first hour of this film is brutally slow, boring, and melodramatic, with some of the worst acting performances I have ever seen, the latter portion of the film with the battle is one of the most memorable, and it will stick with you a long time after. The use of nearly 20,000 extras and helicopter-view overhead shots make you want to get out of your chair and stand up, out of sheer disbelief that something like that could even be captured on film, in a day and age where there were no computer generated effects. What you see is what Bondarchuk saw, and Ney’s cavalry charge against the British infantry squares late in the battle is so stunning, it almost makes you want to enlist in His Majesty’s army. No film I have ever seen starts out so dull and listless, making you want to shut it off, before ripping the remote out of your hand and gluing you to your chair. If you can get past the poor overdubbing, mainly of Jack Hawkins’ character (he lipped the words because his voice box had been removed due to throat cancer) and about a dozen other actors, then this is a film you have to see. It is a sin in itself that this movie only has one or two DVD releases, both being of terrible quality, and containing Chinese lettering on the actual case. The widescreen format is so scrunched together that the viewer does not get the sense of scope and grandeur that the director intended. Restoring this film and putting it on Blu Ray, though, would fix that. This is a piece of cinema that needs to be worked on.
I was going to include Schindler’s List on here at number one, but sources say that the film is getting worked on, and will hopefully be released next year. As of right now, there is no release date set.
I first came into contact with Gary Zaboly through others in the tightly knit Alamo history community, that includes another interviewee, Al Bouler, who in this highly talked about interview, discussed what it was like being a historian and impersonator of David Crockett. Zaboly, on the other hand, has focused his energies differently, which includes writing a book on a much-forgotten, and unfortunately so, chapter of early America history, and that is Major Robert Rogers and his unit of Rangers that fought in the French and Indian War and helped to tame life on the wild and rugged 18th century frontier.
There are few historians who can match the expertise on this subject than Zaboly can, who has written a massive coffee-table size book titled, “A True Ranger: The Life and Many Wars of Major Robert Rogers”. Zaboly is also a painter, who has illustrated scenes of Rogers and also Texas history, for other magazines and books as he is an avid Alamo buff as well. He also tends to comment on my Facebook when I post something about movies, and I guess you can say he is an expert of sorts on classic films. I asked him about his historical passions and much more in our interview below:
GC: Osprey Publishing has referred to you as a “highly regarded expert on 18th century Rangers”. Where did this interest develop from, and how long have you been studying history?
GZ: My interest in early American frontier history developed in my pre-school days, primarily from all the B Westerns on TV at the time, and then of course from Disney’s Davy Crockett series in 1954-55. From that point on I was hooked, and almost everything dealing with the subject—from illustrated books to motion pictures—captured my attention and stoked my curiosity. Over the years I began to study the subject more deeply, my emphasis focusing on such particular areas as the Alamo, Rogers’ Rangers, the French and Indian War, the Revolution, and Custer’s Last Stand. But when it came to dealing with colonial frontier history in the 1750s-60s, most of the available publications seemed to be largely bereft of the nitty-gritty details I hungered for, and so over the succeeding decades I personally rummaged through libraries and archives to find answers to the many questions I had. Being an illustrator, this was a doubly important task to fulfill. Transferring my eventual piles of research notes and images to organized binders and reference files proved to be a boon to both my writing and my artwork. I’ve written scores of articles related to the above mentioned subjects, and a few books, and illustrated many more; hence my reputation, such as it is, as an “expert.” But I can only claim expertise as far as my research—and my interpretation of same—has taken me. Sometimes what we think we know to be true is true only as far as research has taken us. It’s unfortunate that a single life is really too short in which to do all the research that’s necessary to arrive at the answers to so many nagging questions.
GC: Having seen the 1940 film “Northwest Passage”, with Spencer Tracy, which is a story of Major Robert Rogers, the foremost Ranger, what is your opinion on the film, and how accurate is it?
GZ: Northwest Passage essentially got me started on the subject of Rogers’ Rangers. I’d first seen the Northwest Passage TV series of 1958, but it only had a minimal impact on my boy’s mind at the time. About five years later the MGM movie version was shown on local TV, and it proved a watershed viewing for me: it was an entirely new, entirely different type of frontier history. I soon sought out the novel by Kenneth Roberts, and fortunately it appeared that year (1963) in paperback for the first time, published by Crest Books. It proved even more thrilling and inspiring than the film, and I’ve probably read it seven times again since then. As history, the film, like all Hollywood films, is inaccurate from many standpoints: in terms of the uniforms, the layout of the village of St. Francis, and much of the history itself. But when it comes to conveying an idea of the raw wilderness conditions Rogers’ men had to endure on that expedition, it succeeds very well. Even though filmed in Payette National Forest in Idaho, Northwest Passage did manage to credibly depict the rangers’ march through the swamps and rugged hills of southern Quebec, northern Vermont and northern New Hampshire, not to mention their voyage by whaleboat up Lake Champlain in northern New York. In 1759 those regions were just as barren and devoid of human habitation as shown in the film: a virtual no-man’s wilderness land. One of the ironies of 1940′s Northwest Passage is that it paints Major Robert Rogers as something of a racist. Nothing could be further from the truth. The real Rogers learned much of his craft from early, friendly contact with the Indians of New Hampshire, and he dealt fairly with the Mahicans and Mohawks and other English-allied Native Americans during the French and Indian War. When he became the British commandant of the integral British frontier trading post of Fort Michilimackinac in 1766, he was dubbed “the Good Father” by the local tribes because unlike his predecessors, he knew how to treat them with kindness and fairness.
GC: You are also an accomplished painter, and have illustrated scenes not only of the Rangers, but the Alamo and Texas Revolution as well. How long have you been painting and what is your favorite aspect of the Texas Revolution?
GZ: I’ve been illustrating books and articles relating to American history since the early 1970s. The Alamo continues as my major subject area of the Texas Revolution not only because it’s a hugely dramatic event, but also because so much about it remains a mystery, and much research and dissection remains to be done. The amount of progress, knowledge-wise, that’s been done on this subject over the past 50 years has been considerable, yet so much is still unknown, or blighted by long-held misconceptions.
GC: Tell us about your book, “A True Ranger: The Life and Many Wars of Major Robert Rogers”.
GZ: It’s the comprehensive biography of Robert Rogers that I always wanted to read but could never find. It’s very long, and fully footnoted and sourced, and it contains tons of information about Rogers that I had collected over the years, virtually all of it highly fascinating (to me anyway), and much of it new in terms of the scholarship. I think I wrote it mainly for other historians, not necessarily for the public at large, although I consider it readable for anyone. The book begins with Rogers being sprung from a New York City debtor’s jail cell by Highland troops and soldiers of the Royal American Regiment, which exemplifies how popular he was among even the British regular rank and file. But he had enemies in certain high places, and much of the book deals with the machinations they contrived in order to destroy him. Of course the book’s main concern is how Rogers transformed a motley collection of independent colonial ranger companies into a full-fledged, effective corps of rangers, and the skirmishes and battles they won, or lost. It also underscores his Ranger legacy, and how so much of his famous Special Forces “Rules” remain as viable and important today as they did in the 1750s.
GC: Whenever I post a link or picture of a classic movie on Facebook, you always seem to have your two cents about it. What is your favorite movie, and who are your favorite directors/actors/actresses?
GZ: Oh, I’m a big movie lover. I have my personal favorites, most of them historical in nature (1952′s The Big Sky, 1955′s The Last Command, the aforementioned Northwest Passage, 1960′s The Alamo, 1939′s Drums Along the Mohawk, and so on), but also high on my list are Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Citizen Kane, and such odd numbers as Inside Movies. I’ve long been a student of film history, and since teenage days have collected many classic films, of both the silent and sound eras. Director-wise, I’ve always especially loved [D.W] Griffith and [John] Ford. Actor-wise it’s a tough call, but high on my list are John Wayne, Steve McQueen and Charlton Heston. Actress-wise, there’s a wide range of names that come to mind: from Jean Arthur to Loretta Young to Ida Lupino to Anne Archer to Zooey Deschanel—the list is long!
GC: Lastly, I ask this to every historian I interview: why is it so important to keep the past alive?
GZ: Our past is our present; our present is our future. All of it is vitally, inextricably connected, and the more we know about where we came from, the better equipped we’ll be to deal with the challenges of the future. So much national conflict today arises from the fact that history ain’t taught a damn in our schools anymore. Also, even fiction can’t compete with the sheer drama, action, mystery, and color you can find in history. Which is why so much fiction is drawn from history.
I want to thank Mr. Zaboly for taking the time to conduct this interview, and also want to point out two things that are becoming redundant in each of the three interviews I have conducted with a historian on this site. First, for the two “Alamo buffs”, both were drawn into history, largely in part due to Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett. And secondly, both Gary and Kurt Epps, who I interviewed here, both point out the unfortunate truth that history is not being taught as it should in our school systems today. This is a sad truth that I can only hope will be corrected one day.
The first time Al Bouler and I came into contact was back in the days of an old Alamo message board dedicated to discussing the release of John Lee Hancock’s 2004 film. Al happened to post a picture of himself as David Crockett, and something drew me to it. I was not looking at a man portraying Crockett, I was looking at Crockett himself.
Al, who was born in Lubbock, Texas, now finds himself living in Montgomery, Alabama, and working as a living-history historian at a place called “Old Alabama Town”. There he plays the role of a nineteenth century schoolmaster, as well as the Crockett character which he is noted for. He also finds himself portraying Edgar Allen Poe and Charles Dickens on other occasions, with his girlfriend Kathy, who joins in the fun.
He can be seen here, in the video below, hard at work entertaining visitors as David Crockett at the historic site in Alabama:
But even with Al’s stunning resemblance to Crockett, that would all be moot if he did not know the history, and more importantly, folklore behind him. As seen in the video, he clearly knows his history, and enjoys what he does.
I recently sat down with Al Bouler, picking his brain on his “career” as a living-history historian. He explains how it all began in 1990, while he was a school teacher, “I was teaching at a school at the time and had begun playing Crockett for the kids in various classes. I had heard about a rendezvous at a place called Fort Toulouse, and I went there with my pieced together outfit; I was also looking for a real coonskin cap. After I got there, I was hooked. I ended up getting the cap and met some local reenactors by the names of Richard Harris and his girlfriend Mama Lou. They took me in and I was literally what you would call a “greenhorn”. They showed me the ropes and introduced me to the reenactors at Fort Toulouse that portrayed the Tennessee Militia during the Creek Indian War.”
This little introduction would then expand into the character he is known as today, “This later evolved into my playing Crockett there at Toulouse. Crockett came through there in 1814 when the site was being used by Andrew Jackson during the close of the Creek War. My playing of Crockett is just an extension of my childhood when I played around as him. When I first saw Fess Parker as a child on the Disney show, I was never the same.
It is truly amazing how many folks have been inspired or interested in history solely because of Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett TV show, and later, duo of films. Even kids today, who had clam-shell cover VHS tapes passed down to them from parents can claim Fess Parker as their initial spark of interest.
Here are some more pictures of Al as Crockett:
But Al does not just portray Crockett. At various events he dresses up as Edgar Allen Poe and Charles Dickens. Below is a picture of he and Rebecca Ochs, who plays Emily Dickinson, Poe’s companion at such events.
Below is Al as Charles Dickens, with Rebecca again, this time as Jane Austen. These representations are as accurate as his Crockett one.
In getting back to Old Alabama town, can you believe that it is actually Al’s full-time job? That would be a dream for anyone that loves history. But Al was not always a reenactor; here Al tells us how his interest was sparked, and how he came to be a regular, after getting his start at Fort Toulouse, “Playing Davy Crockett and reading everything I could on him really sparked my interest in history. Reenacting as an adult and playing Crockett is a natural thing I’ve been doing all my life. What is nice is the fact that I actually make a living doing it, and I consider myself very lucky and blessed. Working at O.A.T is my full time job right now, but I was originally a special education teacher for almost nineteen years.”
But here is where the job does not really feel like a job anymore, “It is a lot of fun because I get to meet people from from all over the world and meet every 4th grader in Alabama,” Al notes, “Either as Crockett at O.A.T, Frontier Days at Fort Toulouse, the River Festival in Monroe, or the Pioneer Days in Troy. [Aside from Crockett] I play the Schoolmaster Adams at O.A.T for school tours. We probably see around 40,000 kids and tourists every year.”
Al can also taste a bit of fame when he tells me, “I get recognized quite a bit where I go out. It is really nice when kids come up to me and say, ‘Hi Davy Crockett’ or ‘Hi Mr. Adams’.” Al also tells me of several occasions where he has gone into stores right after work, still dressed in his 1800′s attire. I would love to have video footage to see peoples reactions of this, especially when walking into a Wal-Mart dressed as Davy Crockett.
Before we finished the interview, I just had to bring up Al’s resemblance to John Lennon. Just take a look at this picture, and maybe you’ll see it too.
Being not much of a fan, or really knowing nothing about John Denver, I did not notice any similarity, but Al says he always has people saying he looks like him or Lennon. But as Al jokingly noted, “Everyone who I look like is dead. This troubles me.”
Finally, I just had to ask the one question that must be asked of every historian, and that is, why is it so important to keep the past alive, and what makes it so fun? Al claims, “It makes me feel good but it really blows me away when people remember me. Anyone who keeps history alive has an important job. There are a lot of folks out there who just want to ignore history because it is embarrassing to their sensibilities. Crockett fought the Indians in war, then in Congress cast a no-vote to their removal from Alabama. One of the stories I tell at Frontier Days (circa 1814), is about Creek potatoes. Crockett and his men had cornered Indians into a cabin and set it on fire, and the grease that burnt out of their skin cooked the potatoes that were being stored in a root cellar. Crockett and his men were starving, so they ate them. Crockett during his life mentioned this and a few other incidents drawing sympathy towards the Indians, and then justifying his opinion which was against their removal. This incident I explain using his own words from his book, and it gets a strong reaction from whom ever I am speaking to. Some might find it startling, but it is the truth, and Crockett wanted to shed light on the cruelty of war, and the harsh treatment of the Indians.”
As I told Al, I don’t know what would ever bring me down to Alabama from New Jersey, but if I ever go anywhere near there, I would just have to stop by and visit the town. It is much like Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, in being a fully operational living history town, and keeping the past alive.
If I were to go down there, perhaps I could go dressed in the character I portray at the Proprietary House in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, Corporal John A. Lazenby, a militia man. And due to the magic of Photoshop, Al and I have already appeared together:
I hope you all enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it. If you ever find yourself in Alabama, pay Al, err…I mean, Mr. Crockett a visit, and tell him you heard about him from this website. It was through the power of the Internet that I found Al, and he still attributes, or in his words, “blames” me for turning him into a star on the Internet circuit.
As David Crockett once said in a letter to his wife right before he died at the Alamo, “Do not be uneasy about me, I am with my friends. I will try to do my best and you do the same.” You are among friends when with Al, and he is surely doing the best he can.
Since the dawn of film-making, the battle of the Alamo has inspired and intrigued film directors. Since early in the twentieth century, there have been numerous adaptations on the Alamo story, some ranging from the historically accurate, to the ridiculous and exaggerated.
It all began in 1911, with the first Alamo movie titled The Immortal Alamo. This film has since been lost to history, but lobby cards of screen shots still exist in their rare form. Three years later, The Siege and Fall of the Alamo would be filmed, and no remnants remain of this classic movie starring Ray Myers as Crockett. In 1915, D.W Griffith would spin his version of the story, with the highly racist and downright laughable Martyrs of the Alamo. 1926 would have Davy Crockett at the Fall of the Alamo, and then a semi-remake of that in 1937 with Heroes of the Alamo.
In the 1950′s, fresh off Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett craze, The Last Command would be made, starring Sterling Hayden and Arthur Hunnicut. Although it was the best Alamo film until that time, it would be no match for John Wayne’s take just five years later. After his 1960 film, buffs would have to wait twenty-seven years, when the mini-series Thirteen Days to Glory would be televised. This is the version that has been hacked apart by film critics and historians alike, even though it was the most accurate version up until that time.
Just when no one thought the market could bear another Alamo movie, John Lee Hancock directed The Alamo, in 2004. This was a critical and commercial flop. Despite its immense budget of $90 million, and billing itself as the most accurate Alamo movie ever made, it angered people because it basically tore apart the legends surrounding Texan heroes such as David Crockett, James Bowie, and William Barrett Travis, and all but ignored the heroics of courier James Butler Bonham.
Although there have been all these adaptations, when discussing the Alamo battle and cinema, only two come up. They of course are Wayne’s and Hancock’s, both going by the exact same name, and each one unique in its own right.
But which one of these films are better?
Most Alamo buffs will say that they enjoy both, as I do. But it is a hard decision to make. Do you pick the patriotic and triumphant 1960 version? Or the more accurate, better choreographed 2004 version? In order to decide which is better, I will compare everything having to do with the two movies, and by the end, hopefully we can figure out which film is the better version.
It seems a random place to start, but let’s take a look at the two soundtracks. The 1960 film had Hollywood legend Dmitri Tiomkin at the helm, and he delivered what I feel is the best film score of his career, and one that I rank top five in all the movies ever made. From the haunting main title until the incredible, rip-roaring final assault, this soundtrack gave Carter Burwell, composer for the 2004 film, a run for his money.
But Burwell was up to the challenge, and delivered what I consider to be the best film score in the last decade. Deguello de Crockett is something I consider very enjoyable, and the music during the final battle scene (which is divided into six parts) is not only haunting itself, but a real tear-jerker.
When deciding which of these is better, it is very difficult. I could happily listen to either of these any day, but I will give the slight edge, and by slight, I mean minuscule, to Carter Burwell.
Acting: David Crockett
Both of these portrayals are stark in contrast. John Wayne gave Crockett the almighty, larger-than-life look that people at the time were interested in seeing. However, in the politically correct world we live in today, our heroes are more subject to accuracy. For that, Hancock chose to make Bill Bob Thornton’s Crockett a little more believable. He is intelligent, yet not as outspoken as Wayne’s. He is a hero, but acknowledges how exaggerated the stories are about him. And more importantly, Hancock’s film takes note of there being a little animosity between Crockett and Bowie, as these two were superstars of their time. Although I don’t know how it would have been, I don’t think it would have been love at first sight as seen in Wayne’s version.
The edge here will go to Thornton’s Crockett, because he was really into his character, and in addition to that, actually resembled portraits of the real Crockett. When Wayne made his version, he did not want to star in it, but to get financial backing they made him. With such immense pressure on him as the director, you could tell he was not totally into his character. That and the fact he appeared in the same clothes he wore in almost every western– a blue shirt and a leather vest, went against him. The coonskin cap did get more screen time in his version though, and whether or not Crockett wore it full-time at the Alamo is irrelevant. I think it was something that needed to be in Hancock’s version.
Acting: James Bowie
Both versions did a good job of displaying the difference of opinions between Bowie and the Alamo commander William Travis. Both depict him as the ruffian, knife-fighter who does not take any nonsense from anybody, including his superiors. Jason Patric was perfect for the role, in both looks, personality, and persona, though I wish he was a bit more emotional.
Richard Widmark, who played Bowie in Wayne’s version, was by no means flawless. Often times he seemed over the top, but I still found him more enjoyable, despite the ridiculous rifle they made him carry around, and his constant and endless threats to pull his men out of the fort.
I will still give the edge to Widmark, because along with Wayne, he epitomized what it meant to be a tough guy in the old west. The fate of his slave at the Alamo is uncertain, but I thought Widmark nailed the situation perfectly, but Patric was also good in his portrayal, of a much more brutally honest situation.
Acting: William Barret Travis
It is well known in history that Travis was not so well liked among his peers and subordinates. Whether or not the hatred was as drastic as in Wayne’s version will never be known. But this comparison is not comparing accuracy just yet, just the acting. Shakespearean trained Lithuanian actor Laurence Harvey got the part in 1960, and although his obvious European accent did nothing but throw his character off a bit, I felt he was simply the better actor at times.
Wayne made it a point to have the audience, and characters, despise Travis, so that we could all witness his transformation at the near-end of the movie, when he gives the speech telling his men no help will arrive. Harvey was nearly perfect in achieving that hatred with his arrogance, and then losing it and achieving honor. Patrick Wilson’s version, as seen in 2004, was close to Harvey’s, but was not quite there.
It showed a little more of his personal life, showing him signing the divorce papers, but I thought Wilson looked too awkward in that scene, whether or not that was intentional. I thought Wilson’s portrayal was extremely dry until the end, but his final speech to the men will top everything that Harvey did in 1960, leaving me no choice but to award Wilson with a slight edge over Harvey.
Acting: Supporting Cast
Let me just come right out and say it, John Wayne’s supporting cast blows Hancock’s right out of the water. I cannot even say how great they were, because to put into words the character portrayals by veteran actors Chill Wills, Hank Worden, Chuck Roberson, Denver Pyle, and Ken Curtis would not do them justice.
Although all of those above actors, with the exception of Curtis as Captain Dickinson, played fictional characters, it was well worth the loss of accuracy to see such tremendous performances. These men were shown to be lighthearted and humorous, making the time just fly by when watching them.
James Bonham was also given more screen time, although his ride and the news he brings with him were highly fictionalized, and almost laugh-out-loud horrible, it still acknowledged him as one of the many Alamo heroes.
In the 2004 version, Bonham’s spoken dialogue was reduced to a few sentences, after his role was chopped away in the editing room. The supporting cast was also not as lovable, and maybe that is due to the accuracy factor. These men were shown to be land-grabbers and slave holders, and although that may have been true in real life, I felt it hurt the film to have the director go out of his way to let the audience know it. Leon Rippy’s character of William Ward was enjoyable, and the Esparza family was given ample screen time, but that is about it. Juan Seguin was also given a major role in Hancock’s, whereas he was inaccurately portrayed in Wayne’s, by shown to be present at the time of the final battle when he was really with Houston.
It also must be mentioned the portrayal of the Mexican soldiers in both versions. Even though they were shown to be gallant and proud in Wayne’s version, they were not nearly given enough dialogue warranted in a film that stretched nearly three and a half hours. Hancock’s version did a great job with Emilio Echevarria as General Santa Anna, portraying him as a tyrant who would not listen to the warnings of his generals. Wayne’s version shows Santa Anna twice, with him only receiving one sentence just minutes away from the film’s conclusion.
Final Battle Scenes
For an Alamo movie, whether or not one will enjoy it usually comes down to the final battle scene. Because both of these movies featured completely different portrayals, with Wayne’s being in the day, and Hancock’s at night, it makes it very easy to compare the two.
Once again, we will put aside historical accuracy as it is fact that the Alamo battle occurred in the pre-dawn hours of March 6, as shown perfectly in the 2004 version. Hancock did an excellent job in filming a highly complex scene, because of the fact he shot it at night. However, his use of computer generated soldiers takes away from the film, as it is glaringly obvious in some scenes. That and the fact that a smoke ring floats right across the screen after a cannon shot. We all know that smoke rings can only be caused when firing a blank round. This highly irritates me and I still wonder to this day why it was not edited out.
When it comes to Wayne’s version, the word grandiosity comes to mind. He spared no expense in using nearly five thousand extras for the attack scenes, with each regiment wearing a different color uniform. Whether or not that was the case in real life, it added to the immensity of the film project. He also included cavalry, which added to the splendor of the final battle, when twenty-or-so riders come galloping towards the palisade before they are cut down by Crockett’s riflemen.
The winner in this category will be John Wayne’s. To this day, it is my favorite battle scene in any movie. Rarely has one like that, especially when you consider how old it is, been filmed. There are a few obvious errors, such as a dummy being used near a wall when a cannon explodes, but for the day, that was expected.
The Death of the Alamo Heroes
Unfortunately, when looking at this category, accuracy has to come into mind. In the 2004 version, Wilson’s Travis was shot in the forehead by a rifle, when he then slumped to the ground dead. This was very blunt, but also the way I was expecting, because that is what actually happened. Harvey’s portrayal was not so subtle. He takes on two Mexican soldiers in a sword fight, before getting shot twice, and then for no apparent reason, he breaks the sword over his knee and throws the handle towards the approaching enemy, before falling to the ground dead. The scene really could have went without the over-dramatic nature of his death.
When it came to Bowie, both movies showed him being sick or injured and in bed during the final assault. We all know that Bowie was ill with a form of pneumonia that left him nearly crippled at the time of the battle. In the 1960 version, Widmark is up and fighting until he gets injured halfway through the battle and is forced to lay down in a bed. In the 2004 version, Patric is barely able to sit up, and slowly lifts up two pistols and kills two Mexican soldiers before being bayoneted to death. This is the more realistic scenario. But Widmark’s character, who carries a ridiculous ten-shot rifle, blasts away a charging group of soldiers, then fires two pistols, and is also able to slit another one in the throat with his famous knife before being bayoneted himself. Although heroic, it was also highly ridiculous.
Crockett’s death, meanwhile, still causes controversy to this day. Did he die fighting, or was he taken alive and executed after the battle? We will never know, but luckily, these films got to show us both sides of the spectrum. Thornton’s Crockett is cornered in the Alamo church and attempts to go down swinging. When the next scenes opens, he is kneeling down after the battle and he is given the option to surrender. This scene was very emotional and brought a tear to our eyes as he is finally killed.
Wayne’s Crockett ends up running halfway across the compound with a torch, gets lanced in the chest, and then stumbles into the gun powder room. He then tosses the torch in, and the place blows itself to smithereens. That scene always makes me smile, because Wayne’s character is basically saying to the audience, “They may get me, but I’m gonna take a lot of ‘em with me!”
The film with the edge in death scenes goes to Hancock’s version. They were more emotional and depressing, and combined with the eerie score of Burwell, it was a perfect marriage of sight and sound.
It could take the length of a book to compare and contrast the various inaccuracies in both movies, but we will just go over the most obvious. In John Wayne’s version, the final battle takes place in broad daylight, with drums and music before the final march. The 2004 version shows just what it was in real life; a dark, surprise attack.
The deaths of the characters, as noted above, also heavily lean toward Hancock’s version, as do the way there were dressed and what they did in their personal lives, such as own slaves.
It is also worthy to note that the Mexican numbers were most likely around 3,000-4,000, and not 7,000 as depicted in Wayne’s version. The Alamo forces numbered around 250, but it is mentioned that they have 185 in Wayne’s version.
Both films were basically torn apart by the critics, but loved by the history buffs. People that did not enjoy history who saw these movies obviously did not enjoy the film. When looking at the IMDB ratings for both, John Wayne’s version stands at a very solid 6.7 rating with 5,318 votes. John Lee Hancock’s, meanwhile, has a mediocre 5.9 rating with 9,855 votes.
When it came to awards, Wayne’s version was recognized by various institutions, while Hancock’s was only nominated for one, which was a Harry Award in 2005. Wayne’s version would be nominated for seven Academy Awards, for Best Sound (winner), Best Supporting Actor for Chill Wills, Best Color Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Music, and most importantly, Best Picture. It also took home a Golden Globe, three Laurel Awards, and a Bronze Wrangler Award.
Both of these movies are very close to my heart. Both are alike and different in so many ways. Even after mapping out what I like and dislike in the two versions, it is still very difficult. Either way, these movies both showed ordinary men standing up for what they feel is right. Whether or not you agree with their politics is one thing, but you cannot discount the fact that they gave their lives for the dream that was Texas.
For that, I will go ahead and say that John Wayne’s 1960 version is my favorite of the two. The reason is, it did so much to build up all the characters, especially the supporting cast of Wayne’s Tennesseans, by showing how fun and lovable they were. All this build up led the audience to feel really sad when the characters died at the end of the film. Meanwhile, Hancock’s version went out of its way to show them as ordinary, almost to debunk and destroy their hero stature. With the exception of Crockett, there really is not as much sadness felt when the characters were killed at the end.
Alamo historian and author Ned Huthmacher, who penned a novel titled, One Domingo Morning: The Story of Alamo Joe once said to me, when asked about which movie was better, that, “John Lee Hancock’s version is by far and away the better of the two, but that does not make it my favorite, or more enjoyable.”
All of my readers know of my love for history, especially the Texas Revolution and Battle of the Alamo. Actor Fess Parker, was one of the many people responsible for that love, as he played the legendary frontiersman and Alamo defender David Crockett in the hit television series, and later, movie, Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier.
Parker was the sole reason why so many men and women became fascinated, as children, with the Alamo in the baby boomer generation. The popularity that the series and movie caused were unseen by the American public like nothing else before it, as it caused millions of Alamo play sets, McDonald’s toys, and coonskin caps to be produced in the 1950′s.
He first got the role as Crockett in 1955 as a miniseries was produced as part of the show Disneyland. Three episodes were filmed– Indian Fighter, Goes to Congress, and At the Alamo, before being compiled and edited into the feature length movie mentioned above.
The Crockett craze did not die there; in 1956, even after his character had been killed off, a prequel was filmed, titled, Davy Crockett and the River Pirates, where Parker, along with his long-time sidekick Buddy Ebsen challenged a bunch of river criminals in a daring boat race to New Orleans.
The popularity of this caused such a huge market that Alamo movies burst onto the scene at a torrid pace. The Last Command, was made that same year, in 1955, and John Wayne would go on to act in and direct the most well known movie of them all, The Alamo, in 1960.
Ask any person with an interest in this subject, and they will tell you that it was Disney’s Crockett that got them interested. Although highly inaccurate, these films and shows were great at showing violent battles and complex congressional discussions in a way that people of all ages could understand and enjoy them.
In 1964, out f the shadow of Davy Crockett, Parker would go on to star in a television series in which he played Daniel Boone. The show lasted for six seasons but ended up confusing an entire generation of youngsters that Crockett and Boone were the same person, because he played both characters in the exact same way. But there was no harm done.
In 1974, Parker would make his last ever starring role appearance in The Fess Parker Show, that was short-lived. Nevertheless, his legacy lives on to today. Reprints and republication of Davy Crockett comic books are still in production, and Disney even re-releases DVD’s of the Crockett movie.
His later years, were very sedentary, as Parker went on to open up a winery and vineyard, creating a very successful brand of wine. He would give interviews on the Alamo and Crockett craze all the way up until 2006, when he made his last ever appearance in Directed by Norman Foster, an homage to the man who directed the Crockett films.
So this afternoon, the man responsible for all of that passed away at age 85. This was a deeply saddening event, as I can attribute my love for history and inspiration for wanting to become a history teacher, partly to this man. In all his roles, he will always be one thing to me; Davy Crockett. He will be deeply missed and I imagine we will see some tributes of he and his character on TV in the coming weeks. The legacy will continue to live on.
Rest in peace, Mr. Crockett.