By Ken Sutak
Originally published in Soundtrack Collector’s Newsletter: SCN Nos.7- 15 / 1976-1978
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor, Luc Van de Ven and Ken Sutak
John Wayne was in Mexico when he decided to produce and direct THE ALAMO. The ‘forties were coming to a close and for Wayne it was a period of professional immersion in celluloid Americana, a time in which history and mythology and Wayne’s own peculiar personification of the 19th Century American frontiersman had mingled to critical and commercial success in the production of RED RIVER, FORT APACHE, THREE GODFATHERS, and SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON. It was also the era of the ranging incipiency of that debilitating social clash generated by those twin swellings of political excess that were to make American life so disturbing for so many once the coming clash extracted its human dues with the onset of the ‘fifties. The American Left had been going slightly crazy for years, and as the slipping away of the ‘forties came into sight, the American Right looked to be going fully nuts in response.
Yet for Wayne, drinking tequila in Mexico on a holiday with his wife, chewing the rich fat of American history with screenwriter James Edward Grant, and approaching unforeseen status as an incomparable box office draw after having turned forty years old, it was also and most importantly a time at which the markers every man carries on his life seemed to be coming due. The perceived debt lay in being and feeling useful to the country whose seams looked to be tearing, and the measure of the contemplated usefulness was to lie in the merger of the man’s craft and his vision. In the company of a good woman, a good friend, and good tequila, the actor decided that if he could make a movie about the most moving event in the history of the republic, about the one historical milestone the American Left and the American Right and the great American Middle had always cherished as an early point of ideological reference, about the single episode in American history that could stand as a symbol for the better half of the country’s story itself, then perhaps he could convince Americans of disparate political passions that they shared a common seed, and maybe that could strengthen the seed anew. Even if, in the end, it did not, the country would still have to reckon with a mountain of a movie. For the movie born in Mexico was to be about the ultimate strain borne by one noble people of democratic bent at war with another noble people of autocratic slip, about what Europe had come to call in the 19th Century the Thermopylae of America. And to make a movie about the stand at the Alamo and to do it right, one would have to make the biggest, the most ferocious, and the most tender American historical film ever made.
So what was intended to be The Great American Movie was conceived in Mexico, and even in the imagination which wove that conception the project bristled with the weight of an epic metaphor. Wayne wanted to make a movie about the passions and essential dignity of a polyglot people, and THE ALAMO would serve well to consummate such a goal. The story itself was simple and symbolic in the extreme. The men who had elected to die in the ancient mission during the Texas Revolution had come to their posts from six foreign countries and 28 American states. For the most part they had been among the thousands of immigrants who began filtering into Texas around 1820, when the government of Mexico opened its huge, largely uninhabited northern-most province to colonization. The Texians, as the colonists came to be known, were promised, and in 1824 received, a Mexican constitution THAT insured them democratic self-government. In the ensuing decade, however, Mexico experienced an internal political turmoil which culminated in the rise to power of the military dictator Santa Anna, who ultimately billed himself as “The Napoleon of the West”. Political relations between Mexico and Texas slowly disintegrated during the 1830’s, until finally they dissolved altogether when Santa Anna abrogated the constitution of 1824 and garrisoned the central region of Texas with Mexican troops.
What followed was the Texas Revolution, much modeled after the antecedent American Revolution and fought largely on the Texian side by the children or grandchildren of 18th Century American revolutionaries. While such offspring were passionately proud of the historical analogy, they were dangerously disposed to thinking that wars of independence could be rather comfortably won merely by defeating enemy garrisons at places with colorful Spanish names like Gonzales, Goliad, and San Antonio de Bexar. When an enraged Santa Anna marched into Texas with upwards of 5,000 troops to quell the revolution, most of the insurgent Texians had already gone home to their farms, believing that they had already won the war. The few who hadn’t returned home included about 150 frontiersmen in San Antonio who thought there still might be a war to wage, another 400 poorly trained Texas regulars waiting around Goliad for orders to march, and a few score men signing on with a fellow named Sam Houston who was assembling both a constitutional government and an army to defend it at a town called Washington-On-The-Brazos. Houston had been given command of the armies of Texas – but as Santa Anna marched toward San Antonio, the armies of Texas which were to check the invasion did not yet exist. And suddenly the whole crisis of the revolution’s course fell upon those 150 frontiersmen in San Antonio who somehow had to prevent Santa Anna from sweeping across Texas toward quick despotic victory. Led by Colonels William Barret Travis, James Bowie, and David Crockett, the men fortified a sprawling, crumbling adobe mission called the Alamo on the outskirts of San Antonio. From there, with Travis at their front, they fired off urgent calls for reinforcement addressed “to the people of Texas and all Americans in the world,” and simultaneously blasted a cannon shot in the face of Santa Anna when he marched into San Antonio and demanded unconditional surrender against a threat of no quarter.
But except for a contingent of 32 men from Gonzales who rode through the enemy lines to join their neighbors in the fortress, no help ever came. Houston had no troops to send or even to spare, and the Goliad force of 400 men, while beginning a march to the Alamo under Colonel James Fannin halfway through the siege, stopped short, and later was overtaken by a superior Mexican force and surrendered. Thus, ten days into the siege, the men in the mission were assembled by Travis and asked to remain in the Alamo and sacrifice their lives in a to-the-death attempt to so devastate the Mexican army that its eventual defeat elsewhere would be catastrophically ordained. Almost all of the men – 182 of them – chose to stay and die together in the fort. When, three days later, Santa Anna sent virtually his entire army against the Alamo, the most famous and – short of Gettysburg – the most savage battle in American history was waged. Throughout three overlapping assaults consuming several hours of sustained turmoil, the 182 defenders of the Alamo went to their deaths while mauling some 5,000 Mexican troops in passage. About 15 women and children sequestered in the mission survived the massacre. Santa Anna lost nearly half his army in the battle: according to the earliest contemporaneous count, over 1,000 slain outright and an additional 800 wounded, with over 400 of the latter group dying of their wounds within a week of the final day of the siege.
Not until a month later was Santa Anna able to march his crippled army north from San Antonio. He had already given orders that the 400 Texians under Fannin who had surrendered outside of Goliad be liquidated; thus, on Palm Sunday of 1836, twenty days after the fall of the Alamo, Fannin’s 400 men were marched onto the plains of Goliad by their captors and then entirely slaughtered. Houston’s army, however, had grown into an organized force over 500 men during the weeks Santa Anna had been forced to spend in San Antonio. For nearly a month Santa Anna pursued this new army across Texas until the retreating Houston turned his force around and descended upon the Mexican army near the San Jacinto River in the north of the country. It was the only battle in American history in which an enemy army was entirely annihilated or captured, and it secured the independence of Texas.
The broad panoply of the story had been well filmed in 1939’s MAN OF CONQUEST, but the crux of the story – the event giving great power to the overall story itself – had never been filmed in the sound era of motion pictures, though a film called HEROES OF THE ALAMO had been made during the silent era. It took a dozen years and as many millions of dollars to bring John Wayne’s movie on the subject from its fertilization in the ‘forties to its fruition in 1960. In the interim, lesser hands played havoc with the coming impact of the slated movie.
In 1955, Walt Disney sent Fess Parker as you-know-who galloping across the Hollywood Hills “to take his place in America’s finest hour of human courage” – an effort which spawned the biggest pre-Hula Hoop commercial kiddie craze of the decade. Disney’s Alamo episode in his highly romanticized Crockett biography (DAVY CROCKETT, KING OF THE WILD FRONTIER), wasn’t all that inaccurate, but it was pretty tame and slimly produced stuff. In the same year, Frank Lloyd made an excellent film out of the Alamo saga in THE LAST COMMAND, which mined the material from the Jim Bowie angle and almost according to history, but on a budget that was insufficient to provide a set that looked like the Alamo, costumes that all looked as if worn in 1836, or an enemy army that looked larger than a few hundred well-deployed extras. More seriously, neither film attempted to detail the story of the Alamo as an epochal event; instead, both films chose to relate the stand at the mission to the emphasized personal heroism of their featured protagonists. Though these films were vastly superior to such hogwash as Budd Boetticher’s MAN FROM THE ALAMO (a 1953 Glenn Ford western which had Alamo defenders and Sam Houston regulars sporting not-yet-invented six-shooters and wearing not-yet-designed U.S. Cavalry hats) and Byron Haskin’s THE FIRST TEXAN (a 1956 Joel McCrae western which had historical figures like Houston, Bowie, Travis, Crockett. and Andrew Jackson parading into each other’s presence at every three-or-four-set opportunity), they were not the way to cinematize the stand at the Alamo.
Wayne would have none of this nonsense or physical under-nourishment in his movie. Oh, he would play a bit with the historical facts, certainly. And for good, or at least acceptable, reason. For one, he would have to. While Wayne planned to compose the mightiest battle sequence ever put on film, a strictly accurate filmization of the apocalyptic battle itself would necessitate presenting a prolonged cinematic bloodbath which few audiences could stomach and few censors would pass.
More importantly, strict accuracy of presentation would detract from the metaphorical portrait of the nation and its people that THE ALAMO was to project. For Wayne believed deeply in what Max Lerner has called “the sense of the American past not as scholars see it but as it is embedded In the mind of the people themselves, in a kaleidoscopic sequence of episodes and image – part fact, part myth, part hazy remembrance. This is what moves men and women when they ask who they are as a nation, a people”. And THE ALAMO was to be directed to the “crisis of national identity” (Lerner’s words) being invoked by the slow dissolution of just such a sense. It has to be, and would become the first post-World War II film to employ as its theme nothing less than the identity of the nation, the heart of its people.
So salient an ambition could only invest the making of the film with a brave, limitless beauty. For here was to be a film that would stake out its points of reference by carrying history out of the past toward implantation in the future. The project would contain half the great literary themes devisable, because the epic story of the Alamo had been in reality a peculiar historical intersection of those drifts of human love, communal experience, republican defiance, familial devotion, spiritual honor, individual courage, and the final, painful defeats that lie in the last leavings of the memories of men who die satisfied with the worth of their lives for having lived with the justification of essential decency. The idea of the film had the raw, glorious stuff of art about it, and because the project was to be cinematic art, its making was to represent not only a collusion of cinematic artists but also a confrontation on the part of each of those artists with the fabric of art to which each of their separate crafts could aspire.
Whatever else it might be then, the film would be a cinematic textbook containing an amalgam of several cinematic crafts employed to ally the perfection of craft with the power of literary purpose. Not surprisingly, the weight of the enterprise would consume the largest financial budget of any film ever made in the United States up to the time this particular enterprise was completed. There would be three-dimensional sets of the entire Alamo mision and the nearby San Antonio of 1836 so detailed, so historically accurate that their sighting would chill historians to the bone with their imparted senses of felt history. There would be color cinematography so gorgeous that even the breaths of those who considered THE SEARCHERS the ultimate in cinematic beauty would be sucked into uncharted depths. There would be extras, artillery, horses, and even nearly extinct cattle so numerously and precisely assembled that the screen would assume shape as an enormous window looking out upon the making of actual history, and costumes and weaponry so intricately and colorfully correct that the film would bear the look of a long-preserved 1830’s museum. There would be stuntwork so exacting that its accomplishment would establish one esoteric record after another, and editing in the battle sequences so deft that the film would convey a swilling, tumultuously gory sense of the frenzy and horror of prolonged mass warfare out of relatively short scenes that rarely turned specific in their representations of violence. And underlying all of this there would be a musical score which was to be what no film score had ever attempted to be before – an episodic symphony which with those alternating and slowly mingling currents of great power and subtle beauty demanded by depth of purpose and importance of theme would delve musically into the symbols and soul of the American republic.
That Dimitri Tiomkin was to be by the mid-’fifties the American film composer most notably associated with the American western movie would probably have been inconceivable to his colleagues during the late ‘thirties and early ‘forties, when Tiomkin gained prominence as one of a dozen or so front rank screen composers working regularly in the American film industry. It wasn’t his Russian heritage, nor even his tendency to bastardize Tchaikovsky (et al), that would have rendered the thought unthinkable, if, indeed, the thought could have occurred to many. It was rather that Tiomkin’s scores during this period ranged from very good to very bad – with the latter tending to be found annexed to the cinematic Americana for which Tiomkin composed so often.
With exotic vehicles like LOST HORIZON, THE CORSICAN BROTHERS, and THE MOON AND SIXPENCE, Tiomkin could be counted upon to produce serious original scores, expansively kinetic and effusively romantic as they were reasonably well thought out. But for contemporary Americana like Frank Capra’s YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU, MR SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, and MEET JOHN DOE, and a flurry of World War II documentaries as well, Tiomkin would delve into a bag of very tired tricks which had the composer’s scores for such films blaring out things like “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” “America the Beautiful.” and “God Bless America” in what essentially were hastily and unoriginally constructed patriotic potpourris masquerading as film music of care and conscientiousness. Tiomkin was, in short, the only indisputably major American film composer who attained front rank status during this period by almost effortlessly concocting substantially unoriginal, brazenly sentimental film music trash for half the films he scored. If the other half of his output hadn’t been so good, Tiomkin probably would have become in modern memory an “also ran,” remembered esoterically not for real accomplishments but rather for labored longevity, much like Herbert Stothart and Richard Hageman are remembered today.
Even his first score for a western, for William Wyler’s THE WESTERNER (7), ended disastrously (though how deservedly the disaster arose cannot be ascertained). Tiomkin’s score for the Texas-based THE WESTERNER was junked by producer Sam Goldwyn as soon as it was completed. Though the film, for some obscure contractual reason, carries Tiomkin’s credit for the scoring, not a note of Tiomkin’s music is heard in the film, and the entire score is, in fact, the work of Alfred Newman. So the scoring of THE WESTERNER was hardly an auspicious subject shift for the composer who would eventually see one of his film themes become the state song of Texas.
Not until World War II had ended and Tiomkin had returned to Hollywood filmmaking after service in Frank Capra’s Signal Corps documentary unit did the composer begin to be thought of again as capable of handling a major western. The watershed was DUEL IN THE SUN, another Texas-based epic, this one originally slated to supplant GONE WITH THE WIND in David 0. Selznick’s catalog of box office blockbusters. DUEL did not do that, but it did precipitate a soundtrack album, Tiomkin’s second (THE GREAT WALTZ being the first) and one of the first ever issued. The score for DUEL IN THE SUN, like the film itself, was a large scale mess – but a colorful mess difficult not to notice, nonetheless. The film did spark big box office returns, and its soundtrack album sold very well. The two proved that Tiomkin could produce a sweeping and popular musical pageant out of essentially bombastic and sentimental musical materials. For, quite simply, Tiomkin’s nervous, pounding rhythms and excessive, melodramatic leitmotifs went well with epic action – and epic action was what the biggest, if not the best, of the westerns were all about.
RED RIVER reinforced the point. Tiomkin pulled out all the obvious musical stops for Howard Hawks’ classic film of the first great post-Civil War Texas cattle drive. The score was an idiot’s idea of what epic western film music should be; male choruses bellowing mock-heroic homages to Texas longhorns, massed violins marshalling the Stephen Foster songbook into service for the romantic interludes, and cowboy chorales yippee-yi-yo-ing the action along helped make this film seem bigger – and less serious – than it actually was. But audiences loved this music, and so did producers. As a result of his work on DUEL IN THE SUN and RED RIVER, Tiomkin became known as a composer who could make American epics out of westerns THAT were much less than epic at their cores. Yet while such efforts had little to do with art, they had a great deal to do with fun. As overstuffed and overcooked as in DUEL IN THE SUN and RED RIVER scores were, they nevertheless were musical monuments to schlock film music entertainment. They did have their fans – a lot of them – and together they shaped a lesson: the bigger the score, the bigger the western. And the lesser the western, the much bigger the score.
HIGH NOON settled the point. A western could not get much smaller than one dwelling upon a single gunfight in a single town, fought on the side of right by a single man within a time frame as well as a running time of 85 minutes. Tiomkin took the very slimness of the project and turned it inside-out. He wrote a frail, sparely orchestrated cowboy song for Gary Cooper’s marshal, and then surrounded the song in the score with waves of blistering film music that bounded back and forth between elegant Spanish machismo and noisy Russian melodrama. On the rebound, Tiomkin emerged with twin Academy Awards and a generous tag as the man responsible for making HIGH NOON almost the biggest grossing western released up to its time. Moreover, that tag and those Oscars hurtled Tiomkin into position as the highest paid composer in Hollywood, whose specialty was suddenly seen to be the scoring of – westerns.
He was not about to turn down the money, any more than he was ready to immediately tamper with success. A string of flamboyant western scores followed, almost inevitably featuring a macho western theme song usually belted out by a hard voice overlying a cooing chorus. And only when a film struck from this vein was infused with western materials but seemed to be about much more than traditional western conflict would Tiomkin retreat to a basic musical simplicity rounded with an occasional epic exclamation. Both GIANT and FRIENDLY PERSUASION, for examples, were bigger in physical size and literary ambition than any of the other western-oriented films scored by Tiomkin during the ‘fifties. Yet the scores for these films were generally quieter, more reflective, and more responsible than any of the scores composed by Tiomkin for less ambitious westerns during this period. In addition to being very respectable, often beautiful scores (though GIANT did draw its share of tomfoolery both from the Eyes and the Yellow Rose of Texas), they left the impression that Tiomkin was waiting for one serious epic film to which a musical style of both calm simplicity and resonant thunder could be married as a necessary course of honest thoughtfulness.
The closest the composer came to finding that film in the ‘fifties was with John Sturges’ film of Ernest Hemingway’s THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA. Here was a film that employed an epic theme on a small physical scale – the weight of a FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS resting upon the shoulders of a TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT. It was not a successful film critically or commercially but it carried the most serene and quite the most powerful Tiomkin film score composed up to its time – a bountiful score expressing the nobility of its protagonist’s eternal pact with nature through the contrast of preconceived musical delicacy and the sharpening of weighty musical energy. It was the caring contained within Tiomkin’s score for THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA, as well as the composer’s handling of the heroic theme imbedded within this film, that were to provide – more so than anything found in the traditional expansive western scores delivered by Tiomkin throughout the ‘fifties – the model for Tiomkin’s work on THE ALAMO.
While THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA was being scored, John Wayne was already spending two million dollars to reconstruct the Alamo mission and the neighboring city of San Antonio de Bexar in Brackettville, Texas. Dimitri Tiomkin was thinking long and hard about the structure of the score for THE ALAMO by the end of 1958, while composing the music for Howard Hawks’ RIO BRAVO. RIO BRAVO itself resurrected the Alamo story as a point of reference for its plotting, in which a sheriff and his deputies are besieged in a jailhouse by a gang of outlaws whose leader has class enough to hire a habanera band to serenade Hawks’ troubled heroes with the deguello, the “fire and death” trumpet call by which Santa Anna had signified that no quarter would be given to the Alamo garrison. For RIO BRAVO, Tiomkin made the deguello both the key leitmotif of his score for this film and a coming attraction of his score for THE ALAMO. In the score for THE ALAMO, however, the deguello would take on a decidedly epic significance.
There would be other leitmotifs in the score for THE ALAMO – twelve altogether, more than have ever appeared in another Tiomkin score – but the deguello would be one of the two most important. The original tune was truly ancient in origin. The Moors had invented it as a battle march with which to spur sword and shield bearing legions to slaughter. The tune itself was no tune at all, truly, but rather a modulated string of low C-notes which were progressively raised to stinging strips of shrill sound that emerged all but spat out when rendered by massed trumpets. Historically, Santa Anna had adopted the piece as his personal battle call in 1824, when he first gained prominence by leading his troops to victory in a battle fought at Vera Cruz. Thereafter, he had employed it in association with the Mexican red flag of no mercy, which itself would be hoisted before an enemy force prior to battle. Even its Spanish name – the translation is “to slit the throat” – was frightening.
For THE ALAMO, it would become a central fixture of the score, but as such it would have to be – and would be – substantially recast by Tiomkin. Left to its original form, the deguello could be utilized only twice, immediately before the cinematic battle and throughout that battle – exactly as Max Steiner had split the ears of audiences with the unreconstructed signature in his score for THE LAST COMMAND. For THE ALAMO, the deguello would become a somber, full-blooded original theme reconstituted by Tiomkin from the historically accurate C-note base to signify what the film was to call “the eternal choice of all men – to endure oppression or resist.” It would not be obviously murderous, nor would it be sullenly attractive. Instead, as a chillingly quiet trumpet piece which would eventually be mounted as a searingly brutal crescendo of massed horns, it would haunt its hearers for hours, and some of them for a lifetime.
Yet for the composer of THE ALAMO a larger musical concern than what to do with the deguello was what to do with the personal drama. The seeming paradox was that Wayne was fashioning an unusually tender movie about men and women embroiled in the most savage military chapter in 19th Century American history. That chapter bore a cast of epic American personalities, two of whom – Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie – had been among the four most famous Americans alive in the 1830s.(1) For Disney’s DAVY CROCKETT, KING OF THE WILD FRONTIER, composer George Bruns had written a theme song for Crockett that had become one of the most popular pieces of film music of the ‘fifties. And for Lloyd’s THE LAST COMMAND. Max Steiner had written one of his best ‘fifties scores, high-lighted by a wonderful theme song for Jim Bowie. Yet THE ALAMO was journeying where less ambitious films had never travelled; it was not going to be about Crockett or Bowie or even Travis as much as it was going to be about the people they represented and the nature of the sacrifice those people made. It would not be the place for a “Ballad of Davy Crockett” or a “Ballad of Jim Bowie.” And so its musical themes began to take shape as themes representing entities as broad as a nation’s populace, ideas as unbounded as the collision of freedom and autocracy, and forces as simple as the byways of birth, growth, love, and death which color the course of life for all mankind.
The most important of these themes would be the most beautiful, and it would also come close to being the saddest leitmotif ever composed for the American screen. There would be in “The Green Leaves of Summer” a simple nobility that could break hearts, a code of requisite conduct, if you will, that could serve as musical counterpoint to the challenge stirred by the deguello. For as John Wayne’s epic film proceeded to take specific shape, it became apparent that what the producer-director hoped to move audiences with was not a spectacularly mounted final battle sequence or even a clinically correct vision of life on the Texas frontier of 1836, but rather a portrait of men electing to go to their certain deaths on behalf of their friends and families, while holding tight through the extreme passage to thoughts of the beauties of their lives shared with those friends and families, of dreams that would never be personally manifested and of experiences which would never be collectively repeated. What it meant for men to do that, and what that should mean to men who could point to that passage as a heritage, would have to be lodged in the score as its very soul.
Of course the score would be the crowning achievement of Dimitri Tiomkin’ s thirty-year career in the motion picture industry – on the eve of its undertaking even Tiomkin himself would dare to say as much. For the statement made the matter a little like being at the Alamo itself. There is, after all, a line between craft and art. When its demarcation is clearly inscribed in the midsts of the creative mind and therein presented as choice with all the insistency that a sense of ultimate challenge can muster, one either steps across and accepts challenge as fate, or else stands squarely rooted in a lesser role. Tiomkin had been living off the fat of his film music excesses for too long not to have realized that the scoring of THE ALAMO would represent a peculiar redemption. Then Wayne beckoned, another set of markers were called in and another line was drawn. To his undiminishable credit, Tiomkin went across.
Perhaps the most impressive single feature of Dimitri Tiomkin’ s score for THE ALAMO is its attention to a literary structure in which thesis is preeminent, and from which thesis is inseparable. One could even call this feature a fascinating one, since Tiomkin, whenever ambitious in the scope of his composition or not, has generally been among the least structural of those composers who have achieved prominence while working with the most literary of all musical forms. Be that as it may, the glories of Tiomkin’s ALAMO opus emerge from a series of musical frames so tightly and correctly wedded to the shape of the film that a basic importance of the score is derived from its composer’s ability to voice the rich ideas of the film by containing and even defining the shape of the film. Tiomkin’s vision in THE ALAMO – and it is a thoughtful and weighty vision forged in the airs of calm passion – is as linearly balanced as it is expansively controlled, which is to say that the musical articulation of Tiomkin’s thoughts about his country simply never loses touch with a carefully constructed musical mold in which a sense of historical memory is ignited.
Like many an expensive film epic, THE ALAMO opens with pure music – an overture. Unlike any overture of an epic film which comes to mind, however, THE ALAMO’s overture begins and ends with a musical signature that is primarily employed to begin and end the film proper, and which is never used for any other purpose throughout the film proper itself. There is nothing throwaway about this curious technique; rather, utilization of this technique breathes a lovely gust of structural invention into the score at its onset. The signature theme, which is reminiscent of the opening stanzas of “Oh, Susanna”, is in the nature of a summation – it has no singular visual coordinate and can only be defined in terms of what it surrounds.
For the overture, the horns introduce it ever so lightly, in a manner that suggests a slow and almost sad dissolve into antiquity. Low strings join the progressively muted horns for a second, still sombre but strengthened reading of the signature, which now fades altogether into a quickening effusion of strings that sharpen to introduce the climbing chords of a beautiful motif bearing the folksong ambience of “Greensleaves”, though that tune is quite dissimilar to the motif heard here. This, of course, is “The Green Leaves of Summer”. Its now-famous bars are followed by the tender reading of a waltz-like melody (“Tennessee Babe”) that carries a childlike quality through its rendering by woodwinds, strings, and soft bells. The refrain of this melody which follows, however, is passionately and joyously voiced by the strings, suggesting a maturity within the children’s music transcending the limitations of children’s music per se. This in turn is followed by a gaily rustic theme (“Here’s to the Ladies”) which immediately conjures a portrait of frontiersmen kicking up dust at a communal hoedown.
As this fades a new theme emerges from the quiet. Its rising chords and forceful announcement suggest a heroism that strong slashes of string dissonance identify with a powerful, even painful sense of strain and special loss. In the film proper it operates as sort of a “Men of Texas” motif. Here, when the horns shout it out in a stinging second reading that commences even before its first, string and muted horn reading is completed, it is firmly established as a major leitmotif of the score. As the scars of the double-layered reading of this theme are left to fade in a quick retirement of Tiomkin’s orchestral forces, already familiar muted horns reintroduce the overture’s opening signature, which this time undergoes no second reading and ends ominously in a rustle of guitars.
Slightly over 3 minutes in timing, the overture is hardly lengthy, but it is genuinely ambitious and comes as close to perfection as any overture unaccompanied by projected images can come when such an overture attempts to be that which such an overture should be: a tightly structured statement suggestive of the ideas and the music contained within the bulk of the film which is to follow. While the five themes employed in this overture are not particularly complex in themselves, their deployment here is itself a marvelous display of contemplative craftsmanship. But only in retrospect – in the aftermath of the running of the film which invites remembrance of early reference points – can these themes be identified as containing in their juxtaposition here a very personalized portrait of the American experience. For here, within a preset historical frame, the deployment and textural development of these themes captures and projects a vision of early American men, women and children seen initially in the agrarian order of their universal destiny, progressively in their private and communal joys, and finally, unalterably, in the sacrifices demanded of them if their joys are to remain heiristic.
The prelude narrows this internal thematic dichotomy considerably. A bold rustle of guitars breaks simultaneously with the on-screen appearance of the first of a slow series of portraits of the Alamo chapel circa 1836. Much resurrected, the chapel is the only section of the Alamo mission that remains standing today; viewed as resurrected or not, it is also one of the most instantly identifiable buildings on the surface of the earth, not merely because it has been so often photographed but also because it genuinely has a face – an ancient, windswept, agonized stone face that is as enshrined within the historical memory as is any Mount Rushmore replica of a human visage. It’s this face that the great American historian S. Frank Dobie once described himself standing before in awe as a twelve-year-old child, the face before which many men much older have stood in tears. Its associations range well beyond the historical to encompass feelings paradoxically communal and private. Whatever the explanation for such associations, the associations themselves are very real and very well known, and the film embraces these early by thrusting the face of an agreeably living monument full throttle into an audience’s opening consciousness. And if it is the strongest possible image that a film about the nation could employ as bellringer, it is also an image that could easily be misused in the film’s scoring. A composer could go for the quick buck under such an image and know that he would not lose his audience.
The opening score of the film proper is rooted in Tiomkin’s inspired ambition to surround a visual-aural plunge into American history with a musical framework otherwise isolated from the body of the film, and already alluded to through the predetermined parallelism shared by the overture with the film proper. Thus, Sam Houston’s column of mounted volunteers sweeps into San Antonio to the thumping orchestral accompaniment of the framing signature theme. Here it is energetically played in a higher key and subtly orchestrated as an ambient linkup with the instrumental coloring of the prelude: massed accordions deliver one line of the theme, a solitary habanera trumpet delivers the next, and the back-and-forth development proceeds as the column enters the city and come to a rest. Then it is very briefly restated following the first establishing scene as Houston’s column departs. But having now been used to fully propel the audience into another historical era as the narrative portion of the film opens, the signature will be heard again only once – when it is employed to carry the audience back into its own historical era as the narrative portion of the film closes, leaving the audience to share a final view of the chapel first sighted in the prelude, while leaving Tiomkin to offer a final and deeply felt statement first set in the overture.
With the crucial preface and prelude scoring functions as well as the inventive framework scoring function accomplished, Tiomkin’s score now assumes an essential, though rudimentary, political function, the lesser of two political functions performed by the music of THE ALAMO. The organizational turn is mandated by the opening drama itself, which introduces the various and not entirely harmonious factions that eventually group together to meet Santa Anna’s invasion of Texas at the Alamo. Historically, there were five such factions: the largest, a volunteer militia of over 100 men led by Jim Bowie; the most official, a company of about 30 Texas regulars and uniformed “New Orleans Greys” commanded by the young, arrogant, and studiously gallant William Barret Travis; the most unexpected, a colorful band of 12 Tennesseans dubbed “Crockett’s Company” after their leader, Davy Crockett; the most conflicted, a small company of Texas born Mexicans known as tejanos associated with the important Sequin family of San Antonio; and, later, to arrive, the Gonzales company of 32 men who rode into the Alamo during the siege knowing that they would probably never ride out of the mission. The general release version of the film makes no reference to the Gonzales contingent (but ups “Crockett’s Company” to 22 men plus Davy) and makes little more than visual reference to the tejano contingent. Tiomkin is thus left, for the most part, with only 3 of these factions to represent in his music.
For the music associated with Travis and his position of command, Tiomkin reverts to habits which have no proper place of indulgence in any composer’s greatest score. However, Tiomkin in this respect at least displays sense enough to be sparing in his slips, such that the slips may be discounted as slim defects, if only in the context of so lengthy and distinguished a score this one. In any case, let it be noted that Travis’ position is represented by the grossly familiar “The Eyes of Texas”. Even apart from the unoriginal nature and jarring familiarity of this tune, the tune itself derives from a much later period of Texas history than the period of the Texas revolution, such that the use of this tune in the score of THE ALAMO is even more vulgar than its use by Tiomkin in the score of GIANT, notwithstanding the fact that it’s hardly noticeable here while in GIANT it cannot be missed. Here, it is first employed when Houston informs Travis at the outset that the life of Texas may rest in his hands. Those who correctly associate the notes sounded immediately thereafter with the lyrics “the eyes of Texas are upon you” have just cause to squirm. It’s heard again soon after when Bowie confronts Travis in the as-yet-unfortified Alamo mission and the personal antagonism between the two leaders is made clear. Thereafter it is dropped entirely save for several brief reprises in the extensive music underlying the final battle scenes. In fact, “The Eyes of Texas” is used so little throughout this lengthy score that one might surmise that Tiomkin was forced to employ the tune in his score (James Edward Grant’s initial shooting script actually stipulated that the song should be heard over the opening and closing titles!), but astutely proceeded to dissuade associate producer Grant and/or producer Wayne from using it under the main and end titles and to quote it within the body of the score instead, yet in a manner not without reasonably appropriate reference points. Unhappily, however, Tiomkin’s track record with this type of patriotic mickey-mousing prior to his scoring of THE ALAMO leaves precious little lee-way for extending benefits of doubt on behalf of the composer during those few moments when the composer’s scoring dips beneath the dignity of his dramatic materials.
Jim Bowie’s brigade of volunteers is given a more original musical representation, but this also is sparingly employed in the score. Actually it’s only a snatch of a theme – heaving bulges of swaggering staccato notes producing a march-like anthem that goes well with the mass of frontiersmen who follow Bowie into the mission. This is heard thrillingly when Bowie and his volunteers ride from San Antonio toward the Alamo and then spread out in square formation to enter the mission through the long opening in the courtyard before the chapel. Yet it is distinct from a “Victory Theme” heard in the sequence in which Bowie and his men construct the stockade joining the chapel with the southern wall of the mission. The “Victory Theme” is not reprised and is even less a full-bodied theme than that for Bowie’s company; it might not even bear characterization as a theme at all had it not been published and recorded as the “Victory Theme” from THE ALAMO.
For the furious ride of the Sequins across southern Texas toward the Alamo there is some stunning orchestral thumping recalling Tiomkin’s most florid writing for traditional westerns. Yet this music, too, is never developed fully in the body of the score itself, doubtlessly as a result of the Sequins being hereafter shunted aside in the script. The first factional scoring which does emerge as major is the music composed for “Crockett’s Company”. The Tennesseans are given a jaunty theme not unlike the GIANT anthem much toned down. and this works wonderfully to capture the freewheeling nature and good humor of the rambunctious crew accompanying Davy Crockett. We hear it first as the camera lights upon the mounted Tennesseans spread out in two meandering groups wading through high golden grass inhabited by bounding deer and scurrying jackrabbits. It grows ever more congenial as the 2 groups of coonskin-hatted frontiersmen converge in the grass and ride toward their scouts. Then, as the whole company of Tennesseans with Crockett at its head approaches the descending slope of a hill looking down upon the Alamo and the not faraway city of San Antonio, the camera takes the shot at low angle looking up from the golden grass into a turquoise sky striped with high-held, buckskin sheathed long rifles while the “Crockett’s Company” theme segues into a splendid Newmanesque string and horn reading of the “Men of Texas” theme, which itself segues back into the “Crockett’s Company” theme while it then trots to a standstill as the horsemen come to a halt. All of this is followed quickly – as the men spot the town’s cantina from afar – with a jolly rendering of “Here’s to the Ladies”, the orchestral reading of which soon merges into some Mexican-style source music as the scene fades into night and the merry activities at the cantina itself.
“Here’s to the Ladies” quickly emerges as the centerpiece of the lively source music employed at various times during the cantina scenes. It’s even sung on-screen, with lyrics contributed by Paul Francis Webster, by the Beekeeper, one of Crockett’s more loveable (and, like his cohort Thimbelrig, absolutely authentic) sidekicks. The highlight of the cantina sequence itself is the meeting of the young rebel, Travis, and the man-legend, Crockett. As Crockett intones his folksy definition of “republic” and Travis realizes that Crockett has come to Texas to fight for the freedom of that particular Republic-to-be, Tiomkin underscores with a mellow reading of the “Men of Texas” theme, thereby firmly associating this motif with the unification of the Texian contingents and, more subtly, with the shared political motivation underlying their alliance. For the balance of the score the theme represents the men of the Alamo as in integrated force. As if to anoint the casual alliance with the seriousness of its destination, the music for the scene ends upon a lightly militant roll of drums.
The score, with the film, now digresses into a leisurely romantic interlude involving the mature widower, Crockett, and the beautiful Mexican widow, Flaca. Tiomkin’s music for the onset, development, and end of this romance is extensive, delicate, often charming and always moving. It is also some of the most important music in the score, since the romantic sequences themselves bear an important function in the film. They are pure historical invention: when Davy Crockett rode into San Antonio in 1836, he had a wife and family living in Tennessee, and history has never recorded that he dallied with a gorgeous Latin lady on the eve of entering the Alamo. The interjection of the fictional romance does have a sound cinematic purpose, however, for it is meant to convey the depth of feeling and the nature of the sacrifice of a single man who perceives that there are innate human responsibilities that must be met, even at the expense of relinquishing that which is physically cherished in life. In this sense the love of Crockett and Flaca in the film is symbolic of the individual loss of wife, lover, or family on the part of all the men who enter the fortress and finally choose to die there. The romantic sequences therefore demand a special universality in their scoring, one which is directly tied to the humanistic, and in particular the political, themes of the film. So we find that Tiomkin bathes these sequences with music of warm infatuation and tender resignation, musical grounds within which nothing less than the deguello and its antithesis, “The Green Leaves of Summer”, will slip into the scoring of the drama proper.
For Crockett’s (and the camera’s) first sighting of Flaca, the score assumes a briskly amorous flavor, with strings intertwining with habanera trumpet and swirling up the scale as the camera climbs from Flaca’s feet to her face. As she happens to possess one of the most beautiful faces ever seen on the screen, Tiomkin certainly makes the most of her presence. There is a bolero-like serenade for guitar and strings for the scene in which Crockett waits to meet the lady while she quarrels in her quarters with an unlikely suitor. Unfortunately, this piece is tracked so low in the film that its near-inaudibility therein would have caused this lovely music to escape attention had it not been recorded (under the title ‘Old Mexico”).
When Crockett, with much charm and even more chivalry, does meet the lady, the strings all but dance about his rough-hewn introduction, and they positively whirl and spiral into playfully romantic regions as Flaca acknowledges the genuine warmth of the gentleman-frontiersman by hailing him as “Mr Tall American”. From this uncommonly sweet string writing emerges a leitmotif for Flaca herself – an eventual aubade that repetitively spirals up the scale and bobs down again in a serenely enchanting fashion. Just as hints of this theme mark Crockett’s first view of Flaca, further suggestions of the theme are contained within the muted musical tones underlying the night-framed goodbye offered by Flaca to “Mr Tall American” outside the doorway of her room. The full richness of the theme is voiced passionately, however, the following morning when Crockett observes Flaca embracing the brightness of the day at her opened window. After he asks her to accompany him for a morning walk, the “Flaca” theme takes momentary leave to allow a passing tune of Irish character (Crockett was Irish) to connect with a further, more gentle reading of Flaca’s theme as Crockett enters her room through its porch window, whereupon he asks her to write a letter in Spanish addressed “to David Crockett and the Tennesseans who accompany him” – from “Santa Anna”.
Attractive in their coupling though they are, neither the “Flaca” theme or the Irish musical character that bespeaks the woman’s care for Crockett is reinserted within the body of the score. For separating the scenes of the first meeting of Crockett and Flaca and those of the pair’s morning flirtations are two sequences which structurally predicate a discontinuance of a physical, though not a spiritual, ripening of the relationship. In the first, Crockett meets the almost equally mythic Jim Bowie while quelling some sub-plot ruffians in a robust fight in the streets of San Antonio. Afterward the two set off upon a brief adventure to obtain hidden stores of arms, powder, and shot for the garrison occupying the Alamo. Flaca herself is instrumental in the latter pursuit, thereby discovering that her suitor is none other than the tallest American of his time – a man whose very name already signified an abiding folk-lawyer faith in a humanistic equalitarian principle and a willingness to fight ferociously on behalf of that principle, even to the extent of committing political suicide.(2) There is a fair amount of dramatically appropriate but otherwise none-too-important music underlying much of all this, the best of which is found in the pounding scoring of the lusty street-fight scene and in the suspenseful musical shadows that color the ammunition hunt.
The second intermediate sequence extends the implications set forth in the first. Crockett delivers a wagonload of arms and ammunition to the Alamo garrison and is accorded a rousing celebrity’s welcome by the fortress’ community of men, women, and children, with which he and his company are invited to join. Angela and Lisa Dickinson, wife and daughter, respectively, of Travis’ subordinate, Captain Almeron Dickinson, who are also from Tennessee, are introduced here, as much to identify the indelible bond binding Crockett’s company of Tennesseans to the courageous Alamo community as to make an historically proper identification of these characters themselves. Indeed, “Tennessee Babe”, a theme eventually to be given to the child Lisa, shall itself become a secondary theme of community when the primary theme of community, “The Green Leaves of Summer”, fades from the score with the expiration of the Alamo community itself. No music is provided to that community at this point, however: the drama, ringing with loud communal cheer and with quiet, private strategic discussion does not yet allow for that. What it does allow for is musical identification of the force threatening the Alamo community and Texas itself; the scene shifts into the high and truly spectacular gear of shot after shot of thousands of Mexican infantry and cavalry marching in grandeur across Texas toward San Antonio. Tiomkin meets his first appointment with unfettered spectacle by lending the whole of the Mexican army a richly orchestrated theme possessing a sturdy, quite menacing ambience of full-orchestra quake takes hold of the theme and loudly whips the relatively enormous invasion force along in its march until Santa Anna himself is spotted and framed within the army’s center. Whereupon the orchestral forces retreat to a standstill as the scene dissolves into a portrait of Crockett awaiting Flaca’s morning appearance at her window while silently observing hundreds of San Antonio residents slowly retreating before the impending arrival of the “Napoleon of the West”.
The bogus letter written by Flaca at Crockett’s direction is an artifact employed by Crockett to inform his men what the hastened, diverse activities of the Texians are all about. The scene in which Flaca reads a translation of the letter to the Tennesseans is played for broad humor on the screen but is musically underscored by Tiomkin with an uncomfortable seriousness, befitting Crockett’s quickly confessed ploy. For now the deguello is quietly introduced in the film proper, and if it hovers ominously above the men as Flaca watches them react to the simulated directives of Santa Anna, it also serves to disintegrate the intricately kneaded musical delicacies fashioned by Tiomkin to emphasize the mature drifts of fascination and tenderness felt by Crockett and Flaca toward each other.
With this fictional but symbolically inventive romantic interlude concluded, THE ALAMO shifts to the onset of the siege of the mission itself. Crockett leads his Tennesseans into the fortress to the accompaniment of the delectable “Crockett’s Company” theme heard earlier. Here the theme is more fully developed and emphasizes the friendship of the men, spiraling into a rousing country reel for its windup as Bowie gallops up to accompany the group through the gates of the Alamo. The scene and music do much to dissipate the pensive sadness of the previous scene; indeed, much of the film, and hence the score are designed this way, alternating – in that fashion so customary to Wayne’s mentor, John Ford – passages of sad or vigorous character with passages of broad humor or comfortable comradery.
The divergence here is dually apt, with the subsequent sequence rising to thunderous musical levels as the advance guard of the Mexican army occupies San Antonio and dispatches as emissary to demand, against a threat of annihilation, the unconditional surrender of the Alamo garrison. Here the music draws florid hints of the oncoming battles, alternating frenzied readings of the “Mexican Army” theme with robust pronouncements of the “Men of Texas” theme, the two all but lashing each other when juxtaposed. When Travis magnificently answers the demand for surrender with a cannon shot, Tiomkin correctly leaves unscored those moments which record Bowie’s grudging admiration for the makeshift garrison’s commander. In prints of the general release version of the film that contained an intermission, at this point the intermission is preceded by a full bodied statement of the “Men of Texas” theme capped by an undistinguished orchestral flourish. However, in prints of the general release version that do not contain an intermission (the majority), Bowie’s admiring comment about Travis is spliced into and thus offset by the bold and brassy explosions of ear-splitting sound that follow immediately (as they originally followed the intermission where one was present) to underscore some spectacular scenes of the first infantry columns of the Mexican army arriving in San Antonio and laying siege to the Alamo. As spellbinding as such weighty musical configurations are, however, they are but a token of the massive musical function toward which Tiomkin is now fully ready to plunge.
With the on-screen defense of the Alamo underway, Tiomkin’s score tightens considerably. From what is now a solid, multi-leveled musical foundation in which all of the major motifs of the score have been introduced,(3) it is the purpose of the rest of the score to slowly build in intensity upon two fronts toward a metaphorically grand juncture of the two fronts themselves. It is in this pursuit that Tiomkin defines and allows for placement of his personal statements within the shape of the film. This shape is one in which music and camera continually juxtapose passages of increasingly furious action with interludes of increasingly moving humanism. It is also a shape through which the degree of emotional involvement attained in the last of this action may be determined by the degree of emotional involvement arrived at in the last of this humanism. The object of this convergence is no light dramatic/musical matter: it is nothing less than the raising to blunt national metaphor of a portrait of mostly unextraordinary men bequeathing life to a particular republic through an extraordinary communal sacrifice. That the attainment of this object emerges as emotionally riveting when the intersection of the action/humanism fronts is reached is attributable to the two fronts being so carefully lifted from casual segregation to cohesive union by composer and camera through the balance of the film.
The first step in this direction is not yet altogether familiar arid still quite subtle. The camera bears down first on Travis and Almeron Dickinson and then on Bowie and Crockett as from opposite walls of the Alamo they watch winding companies of Mexican regulars pour forth from the San Antonio countryside to take up positions surrounding the mission. Bowie – scripted as doubting the efficacy of fortified opposition to Santa Anna as opposed to continuous hit-and-run opposition – discusses the latter alternative with Crockett in the hope that Crockett will cast his lot against suicidal fortification. The discussion draws forth from Tiomkin the second reading in the film proper of the deguello. Again it arrives faintly by solitary habanera trumpet contained by little more than wind for the support within which its haunting presence is settled. Again it underlines the seriousness of the decision being shaped by the men of the Alamo. Yet now it serves equally to emphasize Crockett’s barely stated belief that so long as it appears that the rest of Texas will rally to fight Santa Anna in San Antonio, the necessary course is to stay. Ensuing scenes highlight the comradery of the men in the mission, with deft use made in the scoring of “Here’s to the Ladies” to musicalize the rough-and-tumble habits of the frontiersmen. But neither the comfortableness of these scenes nor the passing pleasures of their scoring can eradicate the feel of the deguello and the scent of its message which are now lodged loosely along the periphery of all on-screen events.
It isn’t long, though, before the camera and composer pass from the periphery of action into action itself. The first military engagement concerns a night sally to destroy some heavy artillery employed by the Mexicans to sustain a bombardment of the Alamo. The action here is intentionally kept relatively mild, with moonlit groupings of frontiersmen moving in shadowy patterns of sabotage. Appropriately, Tiomkin’s scoring for the preliminary course of the sally clings to a musical calm. Sharp slashes of sound pairing fragments of the “Men of Texas” and “Bowie’s Volunteers” motifs against equally abbreviated touches of the “Mexican Army” theme only flare up to catch isolated moments of sudden, death-by-knife violence. When an oversized cannon is blown up on-screen, however, the score picks up in pace and volume, hurling the “Men of Texas” motif against the screen as Dickinson’s mounted Texas regulars clash with Mexican cavalry and then whirl about to pick-up and piggy-back the horse-less Texian saboteurs back through the gates of the fortress. It’s a colorful sequence musically and visually, though musically it remains slightly scored given the rousing thematic juxtapositions that will color coming clashes.
The major interlude following the first engagement of the opposing forces concentrates on Bowie’s receipt of news that his wife and children have perished from cholera in a faraway place to which Bowie had sent his family to escape a plague. Historically, this interlude is not quite as fictional as the previous, longer interlude involving Crockett and the loss of his beloved. While Bowie did lose his entire family in this manner, the loss occurred two years prior to the siege of the Alamo, not immediately prior to it (accounting, in convoluted fashion, for the dead-center accuracy of the bitter, alcoholic etching the character receives in this film.) Again, however, the film introduces a fictional romantic interlude to emphasize the feelings of men bearing the loss of the physical manifestations of their love while bound to the expenditures demanded by what is seen to be a necessary participation in war. More importantly, given the earlier and already corresponding resolution of the Crockett/Flaca sequence, this interlude manages to portray very straightforwardly the love, or at least the respect, felt by such men for each other. As it should, Tiomkin’s scoring emphasizes the latter aspect of this interlude, thus complementing the feelings deciphered in the Crockett/Flaca interlude through the plumbing of a further range of noble feelings in this sequence. The process allows the two sequences to stand together as a uniquely well-rounded predicate for the drenching universality of the explicitly communal sequences that are to follow. Modulated musical tone of slow but solid warmth hold firm for the difficult scene in which Bowie breaks down sobbing while Crockett comforts him by identifying in retrospect with the source of his pain. The integrity of the scoring at this point emerges all the more paramount when Travis abrasively enters the scene, only to find himself empathizing with the agony of a man he has heretofore intensely disliked. The warm naturalism of Tiomkin’s scoring, already employed to capture the genuine friendship of Crockett and Bowie, is now extended to embrace the inner humanism of Travis and the dawning of his private understanding of Bowie. With sublimity its achieved goal, the music continues to bathe the unusual scene even as Bowie slowly walks away into the night, ostensibly to bear his agony in solitude, actually, by dint of the scoring, to bear such pain inseparate from the compassion of his compatriots.
A second action sequence details a second sally on the Mexican encampments. The object of this one is to secure cattle with which to feed the Alamo garrison, supplies having been diminished with the prolongation of the siege. It’s a more spectacular battle sequence than the previous one, extending from nightfall into daybreak and involving not only the whole Alamo garrison and half the Mexican cavalry but also a herd of cattle actually composed of hundreds of Texas longhorns (these cattle were in 1960, and are today, nearly extinct). With so much happening on-screen, Tiomkin rightly underscores in a grand manner. His energetic music for the night maneuvers of the Texians is comprised of a rolling series of dance-like variations on the theme for Bowie’s company, here rounded with a sprinkling of the “Men of Texas” motif as the Texians secure the cattle and settle within the enemy encampments to await dawn. A softly spiraling orchestral arm paced by muted horns greets daybreak, only to be answered by growing rumbles of the “Bowie’s Volunteers” motif as Texian horsemen descend on the Mexican cavalry asleep in their tents. Heaving slashes of brass quickly join the galluping turns and tumbles of Tiomkin’s orchestra as the cattle are driven through the Mexican camps, in and out of the streets of San Antonio, and across the plain toward the Alamo. Incomplete lines of “Men of Texas” are then strikingly superimposed over the swaggering undercurrents of the scoring as three lines of Texian riflemen are seen positioned outside the south wall of the Alamo to cut off the pursuing Mexican cavalry from the cattle herd driven by the Texian horsemen. As the cattle and their drivers pass through the ranks of Travis’ riflemen, the music sways to a majestically teasing bombast, repeatedly announcing the initial lines of “Men of Texas” but leaving a full reading of the theme unconsummated until the cattle are before the mission gates and the Mexican cavalrymen are almost in the laps of Travis’ columns of kneeling riflemen. Then a gloriously finalized statement of the “Men of Texas” theme bursts forth from the full orchestra as the cattle are driven into the fort while Travis in cross-cutting simultaneously orders his front rank to fire into the Mexican cavalry. As the ranks of Texian riflemen continue to decimate the enemy cavalry while slowly retreating into the mission, the music reverts to fading rumbles and then slips into silence, leaving this first semblance of an assault upon the Alamo to end in cross-cuts between the perfectly organized Texians and the ravaged Mexican cavalry.
The intensification of the military confrontations between the opposing forces having now become sufficiently muscular to allow a broad communal aesthetic to be tapped, camera and composer proceed to establish the dramatic links by which such an aesthetic may be understood. The progression is accorded an ominous musical preface. A thunderous orchestral cacophony, struck from the segueing of strident, thinly-disguised strips of the deguello into a shrill quaking of the “Mexian Army” theme, greets the on-screen arrival in San Antonio of Santa Anna and the main body of his army. When the Generalissimo, fictionally portrayed as oh-so-preciously gallant, invites Travis to send his noncombatants out of the Alamo for departure in safety, Travis accepts the offer and orders the married men among the garrison to prepare their families for disembarkment. As half the Alamo defenders leave their posts for this purpose. Tiomkln underscores with a harrowingly dissonant string descension that augurs the pain and the pathos of the first resoundingly communal sequence of the film.
It is an interlude of such aching grace that nothing less than “The Green Leaves of Summer” will serve to frame its musical measure. A solitary harmonica reintroduces the theme as the wagons filled with women and children are aligned in the Alamo compound. The harmonica continues to weave the heartbreaking refrain of the theme within otherwise generally silent settings of men and even boys bidding farewell to wives, children, and mothers. Born within the mind of its composer to breath reflection of the most stirring of sadnesses, “Summer” passes from prior association with the farewell one man in love with one woman to now speak for all of the men in the mission who must confront separation from everyone but each other. Then it disappears to make way for a proud string reading of “Tennessee Babe”, heard in the budding of communal significance, for the scene in which Angela Dickinson informs Travis that she and her daughter will not leave the mission.
No music, however, is initially accorded the moving scene in this interlude in which a blind wife of one of the Texians insists, against the urgings of the garrison that her husband accompany her and her children to safety, that whatever the needs of herself and the children, her husband possesses an irrevocable right born of their heritage to remain In the mission, while she possesses an equivalent right born of their love to leave him. The swelling cheers that pour forth from the men as she alone joins her children in the last wagon to leave the mission need no musical refinement to leave an audience shaken.
But the music allied with the visuals that follow serves to leave an audience shattered. For as the cheers end, the men are caught in slowly shifting portraiture, their hats or caps still held after waving in the wind, but their faces passing from visages of pride to encompass some of the most intensely lonely looks ever captured on the screen. The airs are again those within which “The Green Leaves of Summer” was designed to take fragile wing. So “Summer” in solitary harmonica voice returns to close the interlude, emphasizing the utter isolation of the garrison by flowing twixt grey murals of the Alamo defenders and bristlingly colorful canvases detailing the passage through the hardening enemy formations of wagons whose passengers can do nothing but stare in contained sorrow at their husbands, fathers, and sons left forever upon the walls of the Alamo.
When “Summer” does recede, it is to give ground to the calls of Mexican bugles. The battle these herald consists of a frontal attack upon the Alamo by a portion of the newly arrived Mexican troops. Tiomkin underscores the assault with a flamboyant reliance upon the “Mexican Army” and “Men of Texas” themes, both of which are tossed about and set furiously against each other within the never lethargic leapings of a large orchestra. Cinematically, the battle footage, though spectacular enough, isn’t particularly well directed (too many shots contain too many extras simply lumbering about the battlefield), such that the footage derives much of what energy it bears from Tiomkin’s music. It’s not a long battle sequence, however. Its main purpose is to detail the Mexican infantry being cut to pieces under the rifle fire and cannonade of the Texians so that an ensuing sequence of great cinematic humanism can be developed by director and composer.
For the slow retreat of the shredded Mexican legions, Tiomkin makes no comment. But as the camera proceeds to detail the aftermath of the battle from the viewpoint of a suffering enemy worthy of an empathy sprung from respect, Tiomkin allies himself with the nobility of this gesture by extending to the enemy the same compassionate recognition of communal sacrifice he has heretofore extended wholly to the Texians. The sequence thus emerges transcendent in its ability to forge an honorable artistic attitude from the ethical achievement of emotions honestly extracted. Cords of reclining Mexican soldiers bathe their wounds at a riverside, mounds of cut down enemy warriors lay in death or agony upon the battlefield, cohorts of litter bearers fill the carts of dead that arc into the distance, scores of Mexican women pass in slow speechless search for their husbands and sons among the rows of Mexican slain, as throughout “The Green Leaves of Summer” in a parallel of lone harmonica voice bemoans the same sense of communal loss identified with the Alamo garrison. In passages like this, director and composer achieve an almost inexpressible beauty, passing well beyond a dichotomization into political symbols of the opposing forces to encompass and emphasize cultural affinities that speak not merely for national communities, but simply for one human community.
Yet it is not the fullest beauty of the film or even of the score. For the dual fronts of rising military conflict and tightening communal humanism are now in position to be firmly interwoven in film and score. Yet so grand a union cannot arrive without benefit of dramatic climax. Nor can that climax be less grand than the dramatic union it serves to herald. Thus, for the climax of THE ALAMO, director and composer avail themselves of an incident without parallel in the enclosing annals of American life.
The cast of The AlamoThere is, however, no line-drawing in this film (possibly because a completely accurate representation of the incident leaves hanging the dramatic problem of what to do about the fellow who decided not cross the line). There is instead an abbreviated approximation of the speech, made by Travis to Bowie’s volunteers, Seguin’s men, and Crockett’s Tennesseans, these contingents having assembled on horseback after their respective leaders have decided that leaving the Alamo to fight another day when the odds are not impossible is, as Crockett puts it, “the better part of valor”. There is little music of consequence for the speech, but there is quite enough music of consequence for the reaction to the speech. A cloak of musical warmth not unlike that which enshrouded Bowie, Crockett, and Travis in earlier moments of mutual understanding falls again upon Bowie as he ponders Travis’ words. The music rises dimly into a hesitant flow of naturalism as Bowie turns his mount and trots slowly toward the opened Alamo gateway. When he halts his mount, the cresting of the music is momentarily suspended. And when he dismounts, Tiomkin begins to build a cautious musical paean. The development is more controlled tribute than exultant song, not music of thanksgiving but quite clearly music meant to represent an action of great giving. As Bowie limps across the courtyard toward Travis, Tiomkin supports his movement with a flowing, upward-scaling, and ever loudening chunk of “Men of Texas” music that does serve to capture Bowie’s realization that he is bound by both character and conscience to remain in the mission until the end. When Bowie finally stands shoulder to shoulder beside Travis, the former staring unapologetically at his men, the latter sharpening his stance to accommodate a sudden look to Bowie of rushing, intermingled gratitude and love, Tiomkin allows the bold flow of his scoring to plunge sturdily into the loudest moment in the entire score when he underlines the climax with a stunning curtain drop heard nowhere else in the score. Silence then intercedes as the rest of the mounted Texians begin to dismount and cross the courtyard to stand together in a communal pact of wordlessly understood union. When the silence is broken, it is by the deepened voice of friendship – a glowing treatment of the “Crockett’s Company” theme – heard as the Tennesseans file across the courtyard to join the rest of the garrison in the singularly immortal election.
Film and score now culminate in two of the most brilliantly executed sequences in the history of American cinema: the last night of the siege and its incredibly fierce final day. The latter sequence is essentially wordless, the former – though framed by words – substantially wordless. The two in union make extensive use of music to establish their full weight and meaning. The first experienced of the two is given a sharply etched foreword to serve as opening framework: Sam Houston at Washington-on-the-Brazos ordering his officers to inform the recruits of an assembling Texian army that the men responsible for whatever victory Texas can eventually achieve are themselves doomed. He ends with the words: “I hope they remember. I hope Texas remembers.” He turns and walks in solitude beside the Brazos River. A chorus quietly emerges to follow his gait with hymnal humming. He reopens and rereads a letter brought by messenger from Travis – it can only be that most famous of American letters beginning “To the People of Texas and All Americans in the World” – and bows his head. Then the aching figure of Houston disappears into the slowest and eventually the darkest of dissolves.
The dissolve is into the last night of life spent in the Alamo by the now symbolic community of men who have elected to die therein. The emerging hymn is “The Green Leaves of Summer” set to lyrics by Paul Francis Webster. There is no orchestra, and, excepting a brief exchange between Travis and Angela Dickinson, there are almost no words heard for the next three minutes save for the lyrics of “Summer” roughly patterned after a quotation from Ecclesiastes and sung by a large mixed chorus. The images they accompany are undoubtedly among the portraits director George Stevens referred to when, obviously moved after a screening of the film, he declared: “THE ALAMO contains images that will haunt you for a lifetime.” For these are images that encompass nothing less than a lifetime – images of men silently measuring the span of their lifetimes as they contemplate the imminence of their deaths. The motivic force the sequence is one of communal memory. The camera reveals men resting in the last comfort of common assemblage, men spent with a sorrow softened by its sharing as they blanket each other to withstand the chill of night, men nearly numb with the grinding exhaustion of war but unable to sleep because on the eve of annihilation memory is what suddenly matters most and so becomes too piercingly precious to give up in sleep. It is Tiomkin’s music and Webster’s biblically emulated lyrics set against the faces of these men that tell us what the collective memory is – a memory borne by every man present while he stares into a small fire or the wide black of night and retraces the steps of his life given over to the woman he leaves behind or the woman he will never have, the children he will not see again or the children he will never sire. “Summer” now speaks not only for and about these men but speaks as well to them, binding them to the best of their memories, to the simplicities of life they shall personally relinquish, to the same patterns of life they hope to insure to those for whom they have chosen to die. And ultimately, in the last moments of memory that preface the end of their lives, “Summer” binds these men to each other and to their heirs for eternity. So the last of the lyricized music takes the strength it reflects from the agrarian heritage of these countrymen and bespeaks their recall of childhood (a time just for planting), of their maturation allied to the turns of the earth (a time just for plowing), of their familial comforts so joyous in reflection (a time just for living), and of the cumulative necessity of their deaths here and now (a place for to die). When finally the lyrics of “Summer’ recede in a slow soft calling of these men back into the earth that shall be eternal home, the framework commenced with Houston’s last words Is completed. “What are you thinking. Davy?” asks Thimbelrig to Crockett who stares silently into the fading flames of a campfire. “I’m not thinking“ answers Crockett. “Just remembering.”
So the memory sequence of THE ALAMO ends. If it is one of the most moving pieces of film ever created, it is finally because Tiomkin’s music and Webster’s lyrics lift it unflinchingly into a range wherein it operates as perhaps the most unabashedly universal love scene ever structured within a film. For the music here delineates no less than the collective soul of these men. And in that pursuit the music gently but emphatically winds its way toward fathoming the soul of nation, which in the end can never be anything more than that soul conceived within the collective will of a people when that will is forced to confront a crucible by which genuine existence as a people shall be determined.
So with that splendid identification in the film made whole by Tiomkin’s deployment of “The Green Leaves of Summer” at the pinnacle of its power to move hearts and minds, the antithetical musical materials set with such ideological precision in the prelude are now inverted. The response to the “eternal choice” presented these men having been cast as the dominant force underlying this night, it too must be answered, and answered only by the inescapable currents of physical extermination that have been ordained by the nature of the
communal decision made. Thus the deguello now crawls like a clinging dirge into the waters stirred by “Summer” as heard at the zenith of its beauty. The sound of the lone, almost soothing habanera trumpet that delivers the theme falls like a terminal caress about the screen as the men of the Alamo endure its haunt with blunt talk about those concepts of courage, honor, and love, good and evil – the last and most vital of their thoughts – that strengthen their resolve while they contend with that lilting promise of fire, death, and the stunting of all speech that arrives upon the slitting of the throat. In the end, it is the deguello that serves to lay these men to sleep, recoiling into silence as the camera tracks out of the fort and into nothing but night. For whatever the supreme grace of their decision and the depth of their feelings that have belonged to “Summer” to bespeak, it is the deguello and what it represents that must be met in the morning.
The gigantic battle sequence commences with the camera’s capture of the March 6th sunrise above the walls of the Alamo. Individual members of the garrison are revealed standing or lying in wait for the final onslaught by a succession of slowly quickened establishing shots. Each of these shots raises the color of the background sky a notch up the color scale from grey to light blue, the whole of the editing thus simulating in seconds the progression of the first hour of daylight. For the last time before it is assailed, the camera in close-up records the face of the Alamo chapel, now a great stone symbol of the defiance of the Texians who will perish under its gaze. A Texian atop the battlements stares into the still rising sun and calls out “Over there!” Distant drums are heard rolling and the camera settles upon the faces of the garrison as these faces record what the audience is not yet allowed to see. The drum rolls grow ever louder as more and more faces reflect calm astonishment at the sheer size of the Mexican force, a size still simulated in the source scoring by an awesome assemblage of beating drums and thus aurally perceived to be immense. When ultimately the drum rolls seem so many and their beatings so loud that the soundtrack can contain them no longer, the camera bears down squarely on the oncoming alignments of enemy drums. Then the camera proceeds to generate the on-screen eruption of shot after shot detailing massive, multi-colored configurations of Mexican infantry, Mexican cavalry, and Mexican artillery marching or being assembled to the tempo of the drums. As the camera retreats within the walls of the mission to capture against a now turquoise sky broad murals of thousands of Mexican soldiers spread en masse around the walls of the entire mission, the drum rolls are joined by the brass section of the orchestra playing the deguello thematically before the drums finally halt. It is left to a subsequent series of long shots contrasting the pitifully small garrison with the huge enemy assemblage to speak breathtakingly for themselves.
The sudden silence inserted into these spectacular scenes lasts only a few seconds, but due to the preceding interaction of visual and musical materials seems much longer. As if to erode the quiet the camera invades the midst of the Mexican ranks to locate Santa Anna regally mounted on a white stallion at the head of a large military band. The dictator whirls the stallion to a trot, a fusillade of drums announces his readiness, and the military band that accompanies him whips into the inevitable on-screen performance of the deguello. Gone now is the solitary habanera haunt of the piece. The massed trumpets literally scream it out, wildly distorting whatever internal smoothness it has previously possessed. Savagely pressed into on-screen musical service to reveal fully sharpened the heinousness lying at its heart, the deguello now sears the screen and finally emerges as one of the most frightening pieces of film music ever composed. Yet the immediate aftermath of its on-screen arrival is one of elongated moments of silence that allow the explicit order of the deguello to take root. Santa Anna’s arm then waves into the wind and the final conflict is set to commence. With that commencement begins Dimitri Tiomkin’s bid to surpass in one huge swollen swoop of orchestral muscularity anything and everything musically and thematically comparable, from the denouement of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” to the “Battle on the Ice” sequence of Prokofiev’s ALEXANDER NEVSKY.
The orchestra appoints a conversion of oncoming Mexican bugle calls as the summit of its first statement. A barrage of authentic Mexican bugle calls then lashes the screen from on-screen sources. Phalanxes of enemy cannons next roar their preface to the ensuing Last Stand Symphony. The voices of the artillery are soon submerged under long-held shallow chords as enemy officers shout out seriatim their orders to attack. Then an augmented orchestra hurls thousands of Mexican soldiers onward toward the sprawling walls of the Alamo from all four sides.
Excluding the completion of the musical framing of the fall of the fortress initiated by the on-screen performance of the deguello, there are five continuous sections of musical accompaniment to the final battle sequence. The first one underscores the assault on the walls and the piecemeal slaughter of the oncoming enemy troops. Tiomkin drives his orchestra into a raging musical frenzy highlighted by repeated explosions of the “Mexican Army” theme. These overlie sunken strips of the deguello held in low-throbbing reserve while rhythmatically pounded out within the undercurrents of the music heard throughout the scenes of that devastation reaped before the walls are reached. As the Texians fight furiously to repel the waves of racing, climbing warriors from their bastion, fragments of bugle calls and occasional splices of the “Men of Texas” theme are boldly mounted upon the heavings of an orchestra set on bringing down theater roofs.
Few of these mighty musical tumblings are brought into play for the second progression, which underlines the breach of the Alamo’s north wall and the consequent death of Travis at his post. For this development, Tiomkin first cuts his orchestra to a standstill to allow the Mexican artillery to lace the scoring with a concentrated barrage that tears open one wing of the mission. Pulsating string slashes are asserted immediately after the breach is made to capture Travis’ desperate attempt to check with his own artillery the ocean of Mexican infantry that pours through the breach. The strings ripple into a dance of defiance until the sword-swinging Travis is struck by enemy rifle fire. A sullen reading of “The Eyes of Texas” permeates the scene in which the dying commander breaks his sword to symbolize the impossibility of his surrender, and then falls dead as the feet of the enemy race over his body and onward into the Alamo compound.
The musical eruptions associated with the preliminary assault now break into a fierce musical intransigence for the third progression, reflecting the foot-by-foot, barrack-to-barrack yielding of the long compound within the mission along with the ferocious warfare still being waged from all walls but the north wall of the mission. Rightly, this music is even more intensely energetic than that heard for the assault scenes. For now Tiomkin carries pockets of Texian resistance into closer contact with the militant maze of enemy troops with concentrated variations on the “Men of Texas” theme, against which rumbling fragments of the “Mexican Army” theme are pounded. As the east and west walls of the Alamo fall to the Mexicans and the remaining Texians work frantically to consolidate their defenses in the southern end of the compound, Tiomkin voices the loudest and quite the most sturdy orchestral statement of “Men of Texas” heard in the score. While the theme recedes, the first lines of the deguello lash at it.
Again an explosion prefaces a visual and musical progression in the battle, this being the last. For the fall of the chapel and Bowie’s own death therein, Tiomkin resurrects a slashing string dance culminating in another “Eyes of Texas” quotation of the type fashioned for the deaths of Travis and Crockett. The final musical bonding of the lives and destinies of the three leaders comes to a close upon the searing of the strings that parallel first the fatal travels of Bowie’s great knife, then the path of the massed bayonets that drive into Bowie’s body. Similar string configurations underline the extermination of the last Texian men alive in the chapel and only cease when the enemy bayonets hover above the bodies of the Alamo’s only (according to the film) Texian survivors – Dickinson’s wife and daughter and a small Negro servitor. Tiomkln then brings the battle music to an internal close by pitting against cross-cuts offsetting the faces of the survivors and those of their captors a loud, low-throbbing distortion of “The Eyes of Texas” – doubtlessly intended to represent the conversion of the survivors into a symbol of the life of a free Texas purchased (4) at so dear a price this day.
Externally, the whole of the music for the battle sequence comes to an end upon the completion of that musical framing of the sequence commenced with the on-screen performance of the deguello. For when the faces of the survivors and their sparing captors are dissolved on-screen, the dissolve is into the approach of a lone Texian horseman: the messenger – of defiance, not defeat – sent by Travis to Houston to announce, in the stated name “of everything dear to the American character” – that he would never surrender or retreat. As the horseman halts and we see in long-shot the fallen, smoke-beclouded mission that meets his gaze, a lingering disintegration into historical dormancy of the deguello is voiced in a reflective refrain of solitary habanera trumpet. The messenger dismounts while the theme slips away into a musical sleep, subtly remindful in its universal message of “the eternal choice of all men“, of the burning communal heroism wedded to the collective making of that choice which is the meaning of the Alamo itself.
It is the efficacy of that meaning that determines the musical scoring of the finale of the film. In this respect the narrative close of THE ALAMO operates on a level similar to that tapped by director George Stevens and composer Tiomkin for the narrative close of GIANT, with particularized music extended to universalized children so as to identify those children with both the previous legacy and future outlook of Texas. Here the process stands in a tighter orbit, however, for that music (“Tennessee Babe”) identified with children in THE ALAMO has never been devoid within the film of communal implications. Indeed, its communal significance has been carefully established through its prior association with the film’s primary theme of communality, “The Green Leaves of Summer”, during a major interlude of enveloping communal importance. Yet with that primary theme of communality having been previously deployed in a pre-battle manner of resonantly memorable majesty, its resurrection by way of finale would accomplish nothing new in the way of literary advance (for the communal sacrifice is completed, and so too the say of “Summer”).
Thus, “Tennessee Babe” is now unfurled within the reach of its own musical majesty by deployment as a post-battle theme of communal passage (for the children will inherit a free republic by dint of the communal sacrifice of their fathers). Set gorgeously to a hushed mixed chorus by Tiomkin (and shamefully to grossly sentimental, thankfully inaudible lyrics by Webster), the theme serves as moving processional while Angela Dickinson and the children pass through the wrecked Mexican ranks. When the survivors pause before Santa Anna himself and he doffs his regal headgear in salute, the chorus seizes the moment to well up mightily, as if to announce that history ended with the fall of the fort and – lest we take that silly salute as something that really happened – legend has emphatically begun.
The orchestra joins the chorus to reiterate the point. All sense of choral hush is cast resolutely aside while a now mingled chorus and orchestra burst into a spectacular musical conclusion employing the film’s opening musical signature, lyricized by Webster, to ask that the old men tell the story, letting the legend grow and grow. And having told its own story, mostly by fact, partly by myth, the camera now fully allies itself with legend by framing the receding images of the survivors as they join Travis’ messenger within the overlap of multiple sunsets (yellow to gold to red). The last of these (to purple) magnificently envelops in long-shot the darkening face of the Alamo chapel, while a lyricized “Men of Texas” provides both a splendid epilog and a perfectly structured linkup with the heroic position of dominance the theme was first heard to occupy in the overture. Then, once the film ends, the choral version of “The Green Leaves of Summer” is heard in its entirety again, this time as exit music.
It is characteristic of artistic redemption, no matter how generous the act of redemption itself, that it draws the passion of grand attention but not the splendor of all honor to which the same act would be entitled were it not of redemptive mettle. For redemption balances old accounts of overdue accomplishment. It does not often range beyond to generate new accounts of independent accolade. While entitled to recognition, its right to glory has been rendered dubious by the nature of that equation drawn whenever bad art has been too often passed off for good.
Yet the great work – even a great work of slimmer ambition – had been much too overdue for much too long. It capped a career in which there had been too much foolish publicity about Tiomkin being the greatest film composer of them all, too much money paid for too many paltry film scores, too many Academy Awards too undeservedly received. So it was to be the supreme yet pathetically just irony of Dimitri Tiomkin’s career that when he did produce a great film score in league with the greatest works in all of film music, the work would be richly received but, in the end, quietly denied the full panoply of professional honor to which it was due. The markers had been met, but they had been very heavy and they had been carried for a very long time. If fate had been generous enough to predicate redemption upon the provision of an unprecedented challenge, fate was not to be so kind as to allow a roaring public homage to settle in at the finish. Still, redemption or no, Tiomkin’s score for THE ALAMO loomed as so magnificent a film music triumph, so devoted to so dear and even dangerous a subject, that it almost managed to carve its own path among those well-turned roads of professional fate that rarely allow for deflection.
Even before THE ALAMO premiered in San Antonio in October of 1960, the word had spread throughout the film industry that Dimitri Tiomkin had composed for the film not simply his own greatest score, but a score perhaps the greatest ever written on a distinctly American subject. The word had been fired in part by Tiomkin’s private publicists, in part by those hired by John Wayne to tout THE ALAMO from every conceivable angle, particularly those aligned with implications of patriotism. But some of the word had been sparked by members of the American film industry who had viewed the film in select previews prior to its formal opening. While some found the film overlong, often wordy, or occasionally sentimental, few could deny the sheer technical perfection of the thing. Some acknowledged an achievement that dwarfed even the importance of technical perfection. When a director the caliber of George Stevens declared that THE ALAMO was one of the few films against which all films of the future would be measured, when a cinematic poet as unsurpassed in his multiple distinctions as John Ford announced that THE ALAMO was simply, well, if not the greatest film ever made, then at least the greatest film he had ever seen, an industry attention bordering on industry infatuation was all but mandated. And because it was almost beyond belief that John Wayne could be the prime architect of such a film, this industry attention swiftly filtered toward fixation upon the work of the craftsmen Wayne had assembled to construct this curious movie bearing so grand a pre-release repute.
So the word took root that William Clothier’s cinematography was the most beautiful display of color photography the 70 millimeter screen had ever contained. That Alfred Ybarra as art director and Frank Beetson and Ann Peck as costume designers had accomplished nothing less than the recreation of early 19th Century America. That Stuart Gilmore’s editing of nearly an hour’s worth of various battle footage had managed to press the limits of audience-and-action symbiosis without reliance upon graphic representations of carnage. That Cliff Lyons had performed wonders with the stuntmen that had to be seen to be believed. That the memory sequence was so marvelously moving and the final battle sequence so spectacularly shattering that some secreted directorial genius – surely not John Wayne! – had been brought in to create them. And: that Dimitri Tiomkin had gone for and arrived at the godhead with this one.
Of course, the intra-industry word was too good to be true. More surely, it was too good to be taken as true outside of the industry itself. The idea that John Wayne, old tall-in-the-saddle John Wayne, beloved idealist or despised reactionary Duke Wayne, could produce and direct a good film, let alone a great film, was incredible to some, anathema to others. And the notion that John Wayne had from Cold War anxiety set out to make The Great American Movie, and had arrived in post-Eisenhower America with the most costly movie yet made in America in hand, only to commit the further hubris of promoting the beast as a metaphor for America itself, was deeply offensive to many. This was especially true for those who could not reconcile their dislike of Wayne’s ultra-conservative political philosophy with the perception that that philosophy was grounded in 19th Century liberalism and sometimes intersected with the best instincts of the country’s people themselves. So what a critical apoplexy took root when the folks who made their livings making movies began to buzz with talk that somehow, some way, John Wayne had pretty much succeeded in consummating his ambition. The actor who had spun the most popular image of the traditional American hero the screen had ever known had from mythological seeds of heroism propelled himself as producer/director of THE ALAMO through twelve years of perhaps the most heroic, and probably the most obsessive, artistic odyssey the American film industry had ever witnessed. And – unless the industry word was hollow – succeeded!
Was it Hemingway who said that the world kills the good and the bad, the noble and the ignoble, with indifference? And doesn’t the world prefer to mount its heroes upon celluloid where they might be regarded safely confined within an assurance that the screen’s alliance with mythology somehow separates the image of heroism from an actual achievement more likely to be endured with spite as a guardian? When John Wayne accomplished within the confines of life a deed as courageous and generous and sweet in its dimensions as any fantastic dead the actor as celluloid image had ever accomplished within the mythological borders of the screen, in some quarters where the world operates often with eunuch-like indifference he was simply not to be forgiven for that. No, he would have hell to pay for that.
When THE ALAMO did premiere on the heels of flamboyant publicity which would have been obnoxious had its excesses not been undercut by the reality of an achievement attested to by the industry word, the American critics in the East were ready to sound their own deguelloes. Certainly the film had some serious faults: a script by James Edward Grant which, however structurally sound, at times spiraled into some of the most uncomfortably blatant speechifying since Eisenstein had drawn sound-era parallels between ancient and modern Russian history; the pandering presence of rock-arid-roller Frankie Avalon as a teenage Tennessee clod; a collection of some of the most god-awful performances from non-actor bit-players since the Italians had plunged into neorealism; and a small but distracting sub-plot about some nasty Texians loyal to Santa Anna, the machinations of whom no amount of added action could disguise as sheer padding. Moreover, and more generally, THE ALAMO was so classical in structure and particularly in execution that it all but invited facile identification as a mastodon of a movie, possessed of a visual beauty so concentrated and a dramatic line so linear as to be numbingly majestic. Still, the film did not deserve the treatment it received at the hands of the best and the brightest.
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times hit the film hard, absurdly labelling it “just another beleaguered blockhouse western”. Archer Winston of The New York Post called it “big, colorful, and grossly lively” – also “trashy”. Brendan Gill of The New Yorker evidenced an uncharacteristic ignorance of American history by anointing it “preposterous flapdoodle”. Time’s reviewer, confronted with what was acknowledged to be “so much movie”, almost begrudgingly praised it, yet with tongue planted firmly in cheek sought to belittle it for what came across as the sheer audacity of its existence. Newsweek’s reviewer had the unprofessional gall to toss it off as “the most expensive B-movie ever made”. Though there were many reviews lauding the film, they were written by reviewers who were much less than famous, they appeared in newspapers and periodicals of much less than substantial circulation, and they bore the imprimaturs of much less than a pace-setting intellectual clout. Yes, European intellectuals like Douglas McVay could take to esoteric foreign journals like Motion and applaud THE ALAMO as “a tale of bold endeavor in the great poetic tradition of Maldon or the Chanson de Roland,“ and rank it with Eisenstein’s POTEMKIN or Kurosawa’s THE SEVEN SAMURAI to their hearts’ content. But American intellectuals were not about to grant the film even an unholy eminence. Nor were they above concealing a parochial one. By the time the major American film critics had finished with THE ALAMO, who was prepared to argue that the film had not been molded in the great poetic tradition of “The Three Mesquiteers” movies, that it did rank with something above the level of PALS OF THE SADDLE or THREE TEXAS STEERS?
That was John Wayne’s cross to bear. And yet it also became Dimitri Tiomkin’s.
Certainly the score for THE ALAMO was not lost in the loggerheads of industry praise from the West and critical damnation from the East. Even Bosley Crowther, in knocking the film, treated the score with unusual respect, mentioning it not in the customary final sentence but rather in the unlikely first sentence of his Times review – and in a manner implying that if half the cachet of THE ALAMO depended upon its $12,000,000 cost, the other half rode on the fact that it bore a Dimitri Tiomkin musical score!
Nor, quite definitely, was the score to be ignored on record. Indeed, it was initially treated by record companies as the film score of the year. Columbia Records had already signed Tiomkin for the (re-recorded) soundtrack album release, and Columbia had let it be known that the issue would be a double-album set. Columbia’s ancient nemesis, RCA, commissioned orchestra leader Tex Beneke to record an album of songs and musical excerpts from the score. (5) Even MCA had a folk group preparing an album to be released on Kapp of all four songs from and other songs “inspired by” the score. The same four songs were also recorded by Frankie Avalon for release by the rock n’ roll star on his customary record label, Chancellor.
But when the damning reviews from the major film critics came in, things changed a bit. Not that they affected the popularity of the score or of those of its themes that were marketable compositions apart from their integration in the score. Columbia had the Brothers Four record “The Green Leaves of Summer”, which instantly became one of the largest selling records of 1960, almost rivaling Tex Ritter’s recording of Tiomkin’s “High Noon” and Pat Boone’s recording of Tiomkin’s “Friendly Persuasion” in popularity. Soon it seemed as though every pop conductor in America had performed or slated “Summer” for album inclusion. Columbia hit again when it had Marty Robbins record what was tagged “The Ballad of the Alamo”, drawn from the alliance of the film’s signature theme and the “Men of Texas” motif that had underscored the film’s finale, and this sold well with the country-western crowd and even won a cross-over birth on the ‘Top 40’ chart. (A bootleg tape of a chorus-and-orchestra rendition of “The Ballad of the Alamo” which has circulated among devoted fans of the score since the early 1960s suggests that another version of the “Ballad” served as an intermezzo in roadshow prints of the film that contained an intermission; the choral version features significantly different opening and closing lyrics as compared to the commercially released “Ballad.) Other companies had artists recording “Tennessee Babe” and “Here’s to the Ladies” for the country-western circuit, where these songs became reasonably popular and continue to be performed to this day. Moreover, a baker’s dozen of the country’s top trumpet players cut recordings of Tiomkin’s deguello (often doubling in identity as the “Theme from Rio Bravo”), and this particular composition became especially popular in Europe, where almost every trumpeteer active after 1960 and worth his wind has tackled the piece. By the end of 1960, it was clear that Dimitri Tiomkin’s greatest score was also becoming his most remunerative and popular one.
The big change, the important one, came down on the soundtrack album release. The double-album set never emerged. Shaken by those big and bad reviews of the film, which augured box-office trouble for THE ALAMO in the large metropolitan cities of the East where most record album sales are generated. Columbia decided to go with a single album release only, whittled down from the material slated for the double-disc set. Barely thirty minutes of music from the score were released by Columbia, including a truncated rerecording of the score’s finale which happened to omit the stirring orchestral counterpoint to the chorus that had made the finale so moving in theaters. And while the inclusions themselves were generally of indisputably major sections of the score, they were accompanied by the pure waste of dialog excerpts and even of “bonus additions” – the Brothers Four and Marty Robbins recordings which, as rewarding as it was to see them popularly accepted, had no business being inserted in such a recording.
And the omissions were simply harrowing. None of the beautiful music for the Crockett/Flaca scenes was included, save that for their parting which leaned heavily on “Men of Texas” and “Summer”. None of the music for the Travis/Bowie relationship was included at all. The entrance of Houston’s column into San Antonio, the approach of “Crockett’s Company” to the city, the leave taking of the Texian noncombatants, the bereaving of the Mexican women, the climactic decision of the garrison to perish together, the on-screen performance of the deguello. Travis’ death, Bowie’s last stand – none of this was to be heard on this album. The near hodgepodge of a soundtrack album release by Columbia was certainly not to be ignored, and the album sold very well indeed, well enough to remain in the catalog for almost two decades to date. But what might have and should have been.
Then, less than a month in release, the film Itself was cut, down from 192 minutes (musical add-ons excluded) to 162, a half-hour of footage and the Tiomkin music annexed thereto lost to public exposure and film scholarship, never to date replaced, not even for the eventual television sale and the subsequent NBC series of two-night network broadcasts, perhaps lost forever. Reportedly slashed: the homespun children’s birthday party for Lisa, the “Tennessee Babe”; the articulation by Travis of the distinction between Jacksonian and Jeffersonian democracy, so vital to a rounded comprehension of the rift between Travis and Bowie; an old-fashioned, good-natured brawl between Bowie’s volunteers and “Crockett’s Company”; a knife-fighting sequence involving Bowie and some sub-plot brigands; the arrival of the Gonzales volunteers late in the siege; and even – incredibly – portions of the final battle sequence itself. What music was contained within these sequences, what further dimensions that music incorporated in Tiomkin’s score, has never been reported, and may never be known.
So they fared, Wayne with his some-kind-of-great movie, Tiomkin with his greatest score, as THE ALAMO took sail in the mainstream of commerce by which any creative effort enters the ocean of culture. And yet despite the critics, despite the misfortune of truncation that had befallen both film and score, there were many in the film industry who felt that Wayne’s personal heroism in bringing forth THE ALAMO might yet be given its due, and that Tiomkin’s achievement, redemptive or not, simply had to be granted its own. As the twelfth year of Wayne’s odyssey came to a close, there was much talk in the industry that Wayne should carry off the “Best Picture” Oscar for THE ALAMO – and would. And imbedded within that talk was the widespread conviction that Dimitri Tiomkin was a shoe-in to receive the Oscar for THE ALAMO’s score.
Now, for any score to have been considered early in 1961 a shoe-in for the 1960 “Best Original Score” Academy Award should have been then, and must appear today, inconceivable. That year bore witness not only to Tiomkin’s THE ALAMO. It held Alex North’s SPARTACUS in its girth as well. It also contained Ernest Gold’s EXODUS. And if epic films and epic scores were in season in 1960, pseudo-epics, or at least uncommonly big and long films, abounded in 1960. Almost uniformly they carried lengthy, prodigious, and altogether distinguished scores. There was Max Steiner’s ICE PALACE and Bronislau Kaper’s HOME FROM THE HILL, Franz Waxman’s THE STORY OF RUTH and Andre Previn’s ELMER GANTRY, Elmer Bernstein’s THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN and FROM THE TERRACE. In a year of less general film music excellence, any one of these scores would have merited a well-won Oscar. And that wasn’t all: 1960 was the year Dimitri Tiomkin also produced the scores for THE SUNDOWNERS and THE UNFORGIVEN, the year Franz Waxman also delivered the scores for CIMARRON and SUNRISE AT CAMPOBELLO. It was the year of John Green’s PEPE, Frank Skinner’s MIDNIGHT LACE, George Duning’s STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET, Leonard Rosenman’s THE BRAMBLE BUSH, Leith Stevens’ HELL TO ETERNITY, and Kenyon Hopkin’s WILD RIVER – fine accomplishments all. Even some of the B-films carried impressive musical scores in 1960, particularly experimental ones ranging from the work of an old master like David Raksin for PAY OR DIE to the effort of a budding master like Jerry Goldsmith for STUDS LONIGAN. As if all this wasn’t enough, in 1960 there was also the matter of a controversial demonstration of genius by Bernard Herrmann in PSYCHO and it that wasn’t enough, it may help to remember that 1960 was the year Hugo Friedhofer was prepping ONE-EYED JACKS only two years out from THE YOUNG LIONS, the year Miklos Rozsa was readying EL CID and KING OF KINGS after delivering the greatest score of his career with BEN-HUR a year earlier, the year Alfred Newman basked in the previous year’s glory of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK while remaining only three years and four scores removed from the coming glory of HOW THE WEST WAS WON.
It was, in short, a year filled with film music triumphs and bracketed by film music treasures such as no year had ever been before – as no year has ever been since. But that such a year could be so widely considered to belong to Tiomkin’s THE ALAMO when the year came to its close was, in the end, the most substantial non-commercial reward Tiomkin was to have early on for his effort. When it came to collecting awards for 1960’s film achievements, Tiomkin, like Wayne, took in little more than a lot of anti-Alamo heat. It was not an apolitical heat. Nor was it undeserved. For it was generated, chaotically enough, by partisans of THE ALAMO itself.
Not that the film or its score contained anything politically offensive even to the most liberal segment of the American political spectrum. The Texas Revolution was not, after all, the Mexican War, and if few American historians have failed to acknowledge the imperialistic impetus of the latter, even fewer have seriously questioned the justification of the former. So remembering the Alamo itself had never been the same thing as, say, remembering the Maine, each that a memorialization of the former process could never invoke the criticism that a memorialization of the latter process should. Most important of all, to the extent that the Alamo was not only a memorialization of history but revisionist history, it was a decidedly liberal revisionism that had been fashioned. Who anywhere to the left of a rightest political bent could quarrel with an American historical film epic whose most glaring historical liberties had been taken so as to scale down the ferocity of conflict and pay otherwise proper tribute to the nobility of an ancient Mexican foe, to the unshakable heroism of the Black slave in early 19th Century America, to the notion of the republic as a community of men and women of different outlooks from whom true sacrifice could be counted upon in the crunch?
No, the brouhaha began with the fierce Oscar lobbying so annually endemic to Hollywood. The campaign to collect Oscar nominations for THE ALAMO, though immoderate and calculated to defy those critics who had savaged the film, not unrespectable. But even respectability was cast aside once the film was actually up for “Best Picture” and a half-dozen other Academy Awards, including those for “Best Original Score” and “Best Song” (“Summer”), Simply stated, no campaign for Oscar votes has ever been so presumptuous, or has ever stirred so angry an industry backlash, as that campaign – splintered and uncoordinated though it was – mounted to win Academy Awards for THE ALAMO and its originally favored artisans. Once this one peaked, even the most admiring of THE ALAMO’s fans could not say much in defense of this most famous of vote-mongering fiascoes.
The responsibility for the fall of THE ALAMO in the Oscar race was hardly John Wayne’s alone. But some of it was, particularly the responsibility for the psychological nature of the campaign. As writer Maurice Zolatow summarizes the onset of the fiasco in “Shooting Star,” a biography of Wayne: “Blinded by his own love of America, his conviction that THE ALAMO was a noble statement of Americanism and that it had a genuine value above and beyond its quality as a movie, (Wayne) permitted a campaign to be developed which sought to suggest that a vote for THE ALAMO was a vote for the United States. There were advertisements for THE ALAMO which cried “What Will Oscar Say this Year to the World?” and another one which suggested that those who voted for THE ALAMO to win were patriotic Americans.”
Even worse was the kind of trade promotion that even Wayne could not control. For if Wayne had gone temporarily blind, Chill Wills, who had won rave notices for his Beekeeper performance in THE ALAMO and was favored to win the “Best Supporting Actor” Oscar for that job, went temporarily bananas in his attempt to collect. In the whole of the history of Academy Award lobbying, no single published trade advertisement is more infamous than one which displays a publicity still featuring the Texian contingent of THE ALAMO’s cast standing before THE ALAMO chapel, upon which are inscribed the words, “We of THE ALAMO cast are praying – harder than the real Texans prayed for their lives in the Alamo – for Chill Wills to win the Oscar.” Had the bodies of those “real Texans” not been burned by Santa Anna back in 1836, doubtlessly they would have turned over in their graves when this one hit the fan. So widespread and disgusted was the industry backlash generated after the appearance of this ad (Wayne himself promptly castigated Wills in print for this “reprehensible claim”) that THE ALAMO was almost completely ignored when Oscar-giving rolled around. Even ‘shoe-in’ nominee Tiomkin, already having received the Golden Globe Award for his score despite the early patriotic pushiness of THE ALAMO’s Oscar campaign, was barred from his early-anticipated Oscar win for the score after that campaign had culminated in the Wills outrage. While the film did manage to pick up an Oscar for the achievement in sound, Tiomkin himself wasn’t even able to walk off with a “Best Song” Oscar for “The Green Leaves of Summer”. Like Wayne as producer, Tiomkin as composer was felled by a three-word rubric borne of the misguided promotional onslaught: “Forget THE ALAMO”.
This final of the falls of THE ALAMO is nearly two decades old now, and in that period the one element of THE ALAMO that has been least forgotten is Tiomkin’s score. The film itself, though eventually profitable despite its huge cost, never attained the great popular acceptance its makers anticipated and the film itself deserved. Ironically, THE ALAMO’s largest audiences and biggest grosses were won not in the United States but in Europe and the Far East, where the film’s epic mataphorization of political and humanistic positions relevant to 20th Century experience apparently ignited disproportionately large audience approval. This surprising reversal is paralleled by the fact that even the impact of music for the film has been greater upon composers based outside of the United States than upon composers based within. To mention only the most obvious outgrowth of this development, somewhere between the deguello-drenched final shoot-out of RIO BRAVO and the deguello-framed final battle of THE ALAMO lies the progenitor of all that luscious trumpet work attending the showdowns of dozens of Italian westerns of the ‘sixties – from Morricone’s DOLLARS scoring on down.(6)
At home, however, the score has remained something of a beauteous, sleeping giant: awesome, even fearsome, seldom analytically approached, and, to confirmed Tiomkin deprecators, inexplicable. True, the work has stood as securely popular in the United States as any other Tiomkin score favored with wide public acceptance, and as reasonably revered as nearly any other historical epic film scores composed before the historical film epics themselves all but disappeared. Yet its most pronounced artistic impact, beyond the quality of its artistic achievement itself, has been limited in American film music to the balance of Tiomkin’s own career after 1960.
In the ten years spanning THE ALAMO and the swan song that is the ingenious adaptation score for the Tiomkin-produced Russian epic TCHAIKOVSKY, Tiomkin evidenced an ambition to maintain a level of epic composition much above that level of potboiler composition that had marked most of Tiomkin’s career prior to 1960. Not that Tiomkin’s taste for junk was dispensed with altogether during his last decade of active composition. Rather, as if to counterbalance throwaway scores like CIRCUS WORLD and 36 HOURS, and simply wretched scores like TOWN WITHOUT PITY and THE WAR WAGON, Tiomkin devoted some of the sensibility from which THE ALAMO had been sprung to the writing of sprawling spectacle scores for THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, 55 DAYS AT PEKING, THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, and finally TCHAIKOVSKY. These epic scores produced by Tiomkin in the ‘sixties, while only truly visioned in the case of THE ALAMO and thus not as continuously fine a segregated body of work as are the epic scores produced by Rozsa or Newman or North during the very late fifties and early ‘sixties, nevertheless provide a formidable line of accomplishment for which Tiomkin will probably be most remembered, and of which he may be most proud. Appropriately, this ‘sixties spectacle spectrum ended somewhat in the manner it began, with Tiomkin as both producer and composer of TCHAIKOVSKY devoting years of his life to producing an epic metaphorization of the artistic character of Russia, much like John Wayne had devoted years of his life to – and toward the end called upon Tiomkin to join with him in – producing an epic metaphorization of the communal/republican character of America.
Still, the nature of the score for THE ALAMO has never fired the imaginations of American film composers sufficiently to produce the film music work that should properly be available to stand beside THE ALAMO as counterveiling musical weight – an epic metaphorization of the corruption, avarice, mendacity, fear, and sheer sinking waste of American life that was hardly unknown in the 19th Century, and which has progressively prevailed throughout the 20th. If the music of THE ALAMO is to be treasured because of what it says and how it speaks about that which was and is good and grand in the nation’s soul, it should not be overlooked that the score still leaves only half-filled that void existing prior to its composition. While there are within scores like Herrmann’s CITIZEN KANE, Raksin’s FORCE OF EVIL, Leonard Bernstein’s ON THE WATERFRONT, Rosenman’s REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, North’s CHEYENNE AUTUMN and, most recently, Herrmann’s TAXI DRIVER, strong references to a brooding, corrosive social pathology that may be as peculiarly American as the stand at the Alamo, there is as yet no great and expansive film music work devoted to that which was and is bleak and frightening in the nation’s soul. If Tiomkin’s THE ALAMO is the greatest score ever composed on a distinctly American subject, it is not the only great score that has been composed on such a subject. Nor is the perspective it shoulders the only valid one that can be contained within a great score yet to be written on such a subject. It should not exist apart from an equally lofty film music vision which travels into the pits and strikes at the jugular of American experience.
Is it the greatest western score ever written? Probably not, if by ’western’ we confine our view to that action/adventure genre from which scores like Jerome Moross’ THE BIG COUNTRY or Elmer Bernstein’s THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN have emerged to assert more suitable claim to the properly limited tag. THE ALAMO belongs rather to a small class of original scores for American historical film epics that range from the intricate networks of character-and-institution leitmotifs provided by Steiner to GONE WITH THE WIND and by Green to RAINTREE COUNTY, to the grander musical visions imbedded by Newman in HOW THE WEST WAS WON and by Tiomkin in THE ALAMO. Of scores in this uncrowded category, only the Tiomkin and Newman scores assume and meet the challenge of fashioning a metaphorical portrait of the republic. But of these two, only Tiomkin’s score for THE ALAMO seizes that challenge within the framework of an isolated American agony through which the very soul of American existence – be it noble or heinous – may be reflected. If we do not yet have available its antithetical correlative, we do have this score, and it is quite possible that we will never see its like produced again. It is, exactly as Tiomkin said it would be, the crowning achievement of its composer’s life’s work in the motion picture industry. It is also the crowning achievement of that substantive type of American film music to which one can look for commentary on American life. In that arena there is nothing like it in the whole of American film music. It is even arguable that there is nothing like it in the whole of American music. For it is a work that was meant to belong not to a public but to a people. It is the finest hour in the heritage of a people that it celebrates, it is the most loving vein in the heart of a people that it identifies, and so it is a people to whom – in the deepest sense of the term – the score was and remains dedicated.
1) A third, Andrew Jackson, was President of the United States throughout the Texas Revolution, in which official intervention by the nation was precluded, the rebelling Texians being Mexican citizens so long as their war for independence remained unwon. A fourth, Mike Fink, had shared an enormous folk-hero attention with Crockett until his death two years prior to the Alamo. Collectors of historical-esoterica-in-the-movies will note that the scripter of THE LAST COMMAND placed him in the Alamo also, through introduction of a character called “Mike the Bull”.
2) Crockett entered the United States Congress in 1830 after serving two terms in the Tennessee legislature, where his reputation as an anti-Jackson politician of already mythic frontier appeal was first cultivated. He served two terms in Congress, magnifying his ingrained national legend for the benefit of the national press (by, among other activities, playing to the Washington galleries in buckskin garb) while increasing the severity of his political attacks upon President Jackson (a fellow Tennessean whom Crockett repeatedly referred to on the floor of Congress as “King Andrew”). He failed to win re-election to a third congressional term when – against the popular temperament of the times and the urgings of his political allies – he stood steadfast, loud, and almost alone in his angry opposition to Jackson’s notorious Indian Bill, a near-genocidal piece of national legislation calling for the forced relocation of the Indian tribes of the East. With the passage of the Indian Bill, the precipitation of that American shame known as the “Trail of Tears”, and his personal political defeat in tow, Crockett announced to the national press that (1) his constituents could go to Hell, and (2) he was going to Texas. Two years later, at the age of 50, he rode into San Antonio. A week later he entered the Alamo. Thirteen days later – engulfed by milling Mexican infantry to whom he had in his relentless ferocity become known as el diablo – he lay lifeless and mutilated in the plaza before the Alamo chapel, upon a semi-circling pile of the sixteen slain enemy soldiers he and some of his Tennesseans took with them in death.
3) I make an assumption here: that “Tennessee Babe” was introduced in the film proper prior to this point in the original 192 minute version of the film. But it has not been heard in the film proper prior to this point in the 162 minute general release version of the film, which emerged some two weeks after THE ALAMO opened in October 1960 (reportedly due to “audience restlessness” during the early roadshow engagements). I have not seen the 192 minute version, and this analysis is based on the 162 minute version which, for the most part, is the only version known to audiences in the United States. But I do know that within the 30 minutes of lost footage was an open-air birthday party sequence involving Lisa Dickinson, located (I think) at some point during the Crockett/Flaca interlude. Since the birthday party sequence was no doubt intended by director Wayne as a surrogate communal symbol to fill in for the more familiar Fordian communal symbol of the frontier dance gathering, and since “Tennessee Babe” is not only Lisa’s theme but the score’s secondary theme of communality as well, I suspect strongly that its post-overture introduction in the original film proper occurred in this lost sequence. While such cuts may do something to stem “audience restlessness”, they do play some havoc with the structure of a film and can, as appears to be the case here, detract from the complete original concept of a score.
4) Relatively, of course, and only in the context of early 19th Century America, or, for that matter, much of the 19th Century world. The young boy is, after all, a slave, and Texas itself would later become a slave state and remain so until the end of the Civil War. The boy is authentic enough, though, and he did accompany Susannah (not Angela) Dickinson and her daughter Angelina (not Lisa) to Gonzales after the fall of the Alamo. Nor was he the only slave among the Alamo’s surviving noncombatants – Bowie’s slave was there and so was Travis’, facts which can never sit comfortably with those notions of freedom fighting associated with the defense of the mission. Interestingly, THE ALAMO does not ignore the slavery problem, for it does present Bowie’s slave in a key (and superbly acted by Tiomkin’s longtime choral director, Jester Hairston) supporting role, and no other Alamo-related film has ever had the nerve to do that. However, THE ALAMO also deals with the slavery problem in revisionist terms, for it has Bowie free his slave prior to the final battle, whereupon the courageous Black elects to use his freedom to die fighting for freedom, which he does. Unfortunately, heroism in American history rarely arrives so neatly strung together, and the fact is that both Bowie’s slave and Travis’ slave were freed only upon the deaths of their masters. Wayne’s revisionism in THE ALAMO where modern minorities are concerned is honorable enough and certainly heartfelt enough, and it does have its pros as well as its cons. But it is revisionism.
5) It is on this album (RCA Camden CAS-665) that one finds the serenade “Old Mexico”, the music for the morning meeting of Crockett and Flaca (“Reverie”) incorporating the theme for Flaca, and the curious “Victory March”.
6) The influence on Italian composers was not limited to their music for westerns. To cite an example in the extreme, in 1963 Carlo Rustichelli went so far as to incorporate a lock-stock-and-barrel borrowing (without attribution) of Tiomkin’s deguello in his score for SEDUCED AND ABANDONED.
7) Tiomkin’s score for THE WESTERNER was not discarded in toto, as some of it remains in the film. The main title is Newman’s and consists mainly of a beautiful arrangement by his orchestral arranger Edward B. Powell of an old cowboy song, “Long Lost Trail,” but the first cue after that heard as we see the cattle range is Tiomkin’s, and uses. About a third of the score is Tiomkin’s (quite perceptibly his style), and includes a paraphrase of the song “Whoopee Ti Yi Get Along Little Doggie” that he later would use in RED RIVER. – William H. Rosar, 2010