Before a bloating Alec Baldwin was causing trouble with his bicycle in New York, he was starring as the dashing commander of the Alamo garrison in the Texas War for Independence, Colonel William Barret Travis, in the 1987 television mini-series The Alamo: Thirteen Days to Glory. However, his performance is far from perfect, even though he does bear a slight resemblance to the real soldier. His death scene, to this day, after many viewings, still causes an uproarious laughter, as he is seen standing on top of a well, firing his single-shot flintlock pistol five times without re-loading, and stabbing the same Mexican soldier in every cut back to him with his rubber sword, before ultimately being killed by a rubber bayonet, neatly fitting underneath the cuff in his jacket, so we can see no entry wound, and certainly no blood. He then topples over like a statue, before the Mexican soldiers proceed to kill the rest of the defenders inside the fortress. Being a long-time Alamo buff, I will watch anything relating to the subject, even this terrible movie, but for years I have taken a small pleasure to know that unless you had a fading, near-obsolete VHS copy of the film (like I do; the three-tape version), it would never be widely seen, and certainly not available to the general public. But now, thanks to TGG Direct, The Alamo has been put onto DVD in a two-pack, featuring either another Baldwin film, Malice, or the Mexican-American War drama One Man’s Hero, starring Tom Berenger.
The Alamo is an epic movie, with a great set (John Wayne’s Alamo Village) and a decent script based on the book by Lon Tinkle. The fight scenes are bloodless, and half of the final battle was lifted from an earlier Alamo film, The Last Command. I understand the budgetary issues they may have had, and that was the reason for stealing a couple of scenes, but the adobe walls of the fortress look nothing alike, and being that the older footage was never remastered, you can easily tell the difference between cuts, and to be honest, it is quite annoying. As for accuracy, the film does a decent job though it does take a few licenses. However, the biggest bomb within the project is the casting. 66-year-old Brian Keith plays a 49-year-old David Crockett, while 64-year-old James Arness is 40-year-old James Bowie (you see that scowl on his face on the DVD cover above? He looks like that during the entire three hours). Sometimes, older actors are able to pull it off, but this is not the case. It is outlandishly awful. Somewhere, there is a director’s cut version of this film where Crockett takes out his dentures before the final battle, I am sure. A nearly comatose Lorne Greene rounds out the cast with a cameo appearance as Sam Houston, though he looks like he is half asleep in the scene, perhaps reading his lines off a giant cue card behind camera because they wouldn’t let him wear glasses. As my friend quipped after viewing this on Encore Westerns a couple of years ago, “It’s amazing that it took the Mexican army an entire thirteen days to defeat the geriatric brigade.” Raul Julia is the only actor worth seeing, with a spectacular Emmy-worthy performance as Santa Anna, though he sometimes gets carried away.
It is also hard to believe that this mini-series was directed by the great Burt Kennedy, considering how weak the finished product is. But nothing—I repeat, nothing—can top the final battle scene in terms of horribleness. The rifles sound like cap guns and you can actually see the rubber bayonets flapping in the breeze. Every time someone is stabbed, like in a high school play, the blade conveniently is thrust between the victim’s arm and his side, or under a fold in their clothing, which is an amateurish attempt at best. There is even one death, where the actor is stabbed on the side (I believe it was his neck) and you can actually see the bayonet bend so severely that it looked as if it would snap in half. Being so close to the camera, I don’t understand how that made it into the final cut. If you thought Baldwin’s death scene was dramatic, just wait until it is Bowie’s time to buy the farm. Although severely injured with back pain (in real life, he was probably unconscious due to consumption at the time of the final battle), he manages to stand up and challenge what seems like the entire Mexican army with two pistols and his famous Bowie knife before they indiscriminately stab him to death. This is shortly after Crockett gets stabbed to death (which is possible, I guess), and of course, that is how Travis met his end in the film as well (that was another license; Travis was killed with a gunshot wound to the head on the north wall). Perhaps the props department should have spent more money on blanks than rubber bayonets—they felt they had to put them to use by killing half of the defenders with them!
The Alamo is one of those films that is neither here or there. It’s definitely the worst of the lot, due to the dry acting, horrible casting decisions (does anyone think David Ogden Stiers was a good choice to play a Mexican colonel? No, neither do I…), and lackluster special effects, but it might actually be worth seeing. The characters are portrayed in a much more down-to-earth way, than say, John Wayne’s Alamo film, yet there is still some of that over-the-top heroism present that we do not get in the 2004 version. It also has a heavy western feel due to the actors being used. Cringe moments are a plenty, and parts of this are so bad it is almost worth watching just to make fun of it. So give it a shot. It’s only $14.99.
PS: There is actually someone complaining on Amazon that this is not the full three-hour version, but the one missing 32 minutes. This same problem occurred when it was only available on VHS, and buyers had to double-check which version it was they were buying. Let me say this: if you have never seen this before, then do not worry. TGG Direct did you a favor!