This retelling of the Alamo story and the beginnings of Texas independence from Mexico is perhaps the most John Wayne film ever made: Wayne was the star, producer, and director, and his company provided some of the financing. Wayne as an actor was at his peak in the wake of The Searchers and Rio Bravo, and the movie was released to great hype.
From our vantage point more than 50 years later, one would expect that it would have done well at the box office but perhaps not greeted with much enthusiasm by critics. In fact, it was the opposite. A hugely expensive production in its time ($12 million) with an enormous cast, it only made back $8 million worth. Wayne lost his personal investment. The movie eventually went into the black, making lots of money in Europe and Japan, but Wayne no longer owned it by that time.
Critical reaction was mixed at best, but the movie was one of the few nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award for 1960.In 1836, Texans are declaring their independence from Mexico, and Mexican president/generalissimo Santa Anna is bringing his experienced army of more than 6000 north to bring them back into the fold.
There is not much of a Texas army to oppose him—only 600 men under Fannin at Goliad and 187 men commanded by William Barret Travis (English actor Laurence Harvey) at San Antonio, using the old mission at the Alamo as a fortress of sorts. Sam Houston (Richard Boone in his curmudgeonly mode) is trying to put together a real army to oppose Santa Anna, but he desperately needs time to do that.
In addition to Travis, “Colonel” Jim Bowie (Richard Widmark), former Louisiana land speculator and knife fighter, commands some militia at the Alamo. And a bunch of roistering Tennesseans nominally led by former congressman Davy Crockett (John Wayne) are in town with an uncertain destination. Travis offends local Hispanics such as Juan Seguin (Joseph Calleia), who would otherwise support Texas independence, Travis and Bowie bicker constantly, and Travis unsuccessfully tries to recruit the Tennesseans.
During the build-up, Crockett bonds with his men, gives the occasional speech about how the word “republic” chokes him up, and makes a play for a young and attractive Hispanic widow (the beautiful Linda Cristal). She has no apparent purpose, since she doesn’t actually get together with Crockett and she doesn’t stick around after the first third of the movie. In the midst of their drunkenness, Crockett manipulates the Tennesseans into joining the defenders of the Alamo.