Not the First, Not quite the Worst, Possibly Worth a Look
John A Lee III | San Antonio, TX | 05/07/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
""The Martyrs of the Alamo" is not the first movie made about the famous siege during the War for Texas Independance but it is the earliest one to survive. It was made in 1915 by D.W. Griffith of "Birth of a Nation" fame (or infamy). In fact, the subtitle of this production is "Birth of Texas" and the 2 movies do have some things in common.
The main thing in common is bigotry. In this film, the war is depicted as a buch of upstanding white men trying to save white women from the lecherous ravages of those savage Mexicans. Mexicans are portrayed as an inferior race. This is patently untrue.
The second thing it has in common is a lack of historicity. There was a Texas Revolution. Gral. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna did rule Mexico and command the Mexican Army. Travis, Bowie and Crocket did die at the Alamo and Sam Houston did defeat the generalisimo at the Battle of San Jacinto. These elements are present in this film but most of the rest of what is present is fiction or even contrary to known facts. Don't look to this film as a history lesson. (It is interesting to note that this is one of the rare Alamo Movies that does bother to portray the Battle of San Jacinto)
Griffith, in producing this movie, conveniently forgot how may of the Alamo defenders were Mexican citizens. Bowie was anglo but had a Mexican wife and was a citizen. SO for that matter were most, anglo or hispanic. He set the tone for bad relations between the races for years to come. This is portrayed most viciously in two manners. During the fall, a Mexican soldier bayonettes a young toddler, seemingly for the fun of it. Also, a blond woman is saved so that Santa Anna "the notorious drug fiend" can have his carnal way with her. Uh, Uh.
One of the "funnier" things about this movie is the headgear. Almost all of the Alamo defenders wear coon skin caps like Davy Crocket. That makes identifying Crocket difficult sometimes. In a similar manner, most of the the Mexicans, except for the high official wearing cocked hats, have incredibly tall shakos. I thought that was just a "movie thing" until I saw one in a museum and they were that tall.
Now that I have thorougly bashed this film, there are some good things to say about it. The production values are state of the art for 1915 and the print made into a DVD is much better quality than most from that age. The music that accompanies it evokes the era of the silent film well. There are a few historical snippets that are true and seldom portrayed. The battle sequences are pretty good for that day and age also.
For Alamo buffs, this film is a "must have". In addition to "Martyrs" the DVD also contains 2 short Alamo films and one about the recovery of one of them. None of these is particularly good in its own right but they are interesting for buffs.
If you want epic Alamo drama, choose the John Wayne version. If you want history, try the Imax version. If you just want to see the oldest thing still extant about the Alamo (and can hold your nose for the racism) choose this one.
Alright early silent
Steven Hellerstedt | 10/30/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Alright, early (1915) silent film on the Alamo has the usual suspects - Davy Crockett, James Bowie, Colonel Travis - repelling the overwhelming, Santa Anna-led, Mexican force attacking the Alamo in 1836.
This disk seems to have been released to coincide with the theatrical release of the Dennis Quaid/Billy Bob Thornton `The Alamo' in 2004. I haven't seen the recent one, or inexplicably (to me, at least) the John Wayne version of 1960. According to THE MARTYRS OF THE ALAMO, Santa Anna is a notorious drug fiend - hey, it's on one of the inter-title cards, and the Texas historian introducing the movie draws our attention to it - a drug fiend who's constantly on the lookout for some reason to attack the American settlers in San Antonio. Santa Anna's rowdy soldiers accost Captain Dickinson's wife on the street, an act that inflames Dickinson's Tennessee sense of honor. One dead Mexican officer later and Santa Anna sets about planning his attack.
Unlike other early silent movies I've seen, THE MARTYRS OF THE ALAMO has relatively subdued acting and some well choreographed action scenes. The defenders, including the desperately ill Bowie, are appropriately gallant, and the distant Sam Houston is appropriately tardy with the relief troops, to more or less convince me this is at least a loose representation of historical facts. That belief is challenged by the thick fur Davy Crockett caps and the that-don't-look-like-the-Alamo, French rococo, studio built church meant to represent the Alamo. It's possible the Mexicans weren't that decadent and depraved, either. If the history is a bit shaky, at least the print is in good condition.
Bonus features on the disk include the 1938, 15-minute `The Alamo: Shrine of Texas Liberty.' Locally produced and silent with a voice-over narration, this short film, we're told, was intended for use in history classes. Looks like it, too, although in the introduction we're told it contains some interesting footage of late-thirties San Antonio, before it was developed, as well as a couple of that city's more prominent citizens who had acted in the film. The other bonus feature is a 5-minute animated short put out by the Federal Government in 1976 as part of the bicentennial celebration.
Not that bad considering
Anyechka | Rensselaer, NY United States | 12/13/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Even though the feature-length film was in its infancy in 1915, this film actually doesn't seem all that bad. It's not exactly the stuff of great classic cinema either, but it doesn't seem crude, stilted, or primitive the way some other very early features do. In particular, I really enjoyed the great battle scenes. The film, the earliest known surviving Alamo film, tells the familiar story of the Battle of the Alamo, and unlike a lot of other films retelling this story, actually goes as far as the later Battle of San Jacinto instead of just ending with nearly everyone being killed at the Alamo. All of the prominent figures are there, such as Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, Santa Anna (played by Walter Long, who was always such a good villain), and Sam Houston, along with the ordinary people who made history too despite not getting their names into the books. I'll admit I didn't really feel drawn into the film, either emotionally or interest-wise (perhaps because it's been a really long time since I was last passionately interested in 19th century American history apart from the Civil War), but it does have ample interest value through being one of the early feature films, and the earliest surviving example of an Alamo film as well. The musical score is also really nice.
The film does have its problems, though. Real history is rarely so simplistic and clear-cut as it's depicted in this film, with the mentality of "Our side was so virtuous, upstanding, saintly, and in the right, and the ones on the other side were these evil villainous sinners who went after us completely unprovoked." A more balanced view of the history behind this story, as well as the events leading up to it, would have made it a lot more interesting to me. Naturally, over the years, the Alamo, like many other pivotal events in American history, has fallen victim to romanticising, urban legends, and even outright fictions and lies, and this film does seem guilty of that as well. The basic facts are of course there, but the real events and personalities were a lot more complex than shown here. The racist depiction of the Mexicans, particularly Santa Anna, as hopeless drug fiends, sexual predators, crude barbarians, and child-killers is even worse than the less than completely accurate history, though at least unlike 'Birth of a Nation,' it doesn't seem to be the focus of the film, and it wasn't as bad or constant that it made me physically ill as when I watched BOAN. Certainly the real Santa Anna wasn't the complete villain he was made out to be here.
There are a couple of extras included--a short 1976 cartoon, 'The Spirit of Independence'; a brief featurette about the earliest Alamo films and the rediscovery of a short 1938 Alamo film, 'Shrine of Texas Liberty' (painfully low-budget, so much so the untrained actors had to provide their own wardrobes); and the abovementioned film itself. While the main feature obviously shouldn't be one's first silent, it should probably appeal to Alamo and 19th century American history buffs. If one can get past the less than accurate history and the racism, the only really distracting thing is that there's a bug towards the lower right side of the screen. It's really inexcusable that any supposedly professional DVD would do that."
A Treat for Alamo and History Buffs
Barbara (Burkowsky) Underwood | Manly, NSW Australia | 01/08/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This special edition by Delta Entertainment turned out to be much better than I had first expected: not only is the feature film a D.W.Griffith production from 1915, it is also now the oldest surviving Alamo film, and this edition adds a brief but helpful commentary by Alamo expert, Frank Thompson, a 16-minute rare educational film on the Alamo from the early 1930s, and two other rare and unusual short films from more recent times. "The Martyrs of the Alamo" has been digitally remastered and the picture quality is fairly good throughout, with fine acting performances (by silent era stars like Sam de Grasse, A.D. Sears, Walter Long) good battle scenes and overall excellent direction by Christy Cabanne. The modern orchestral score also impressed me, and I found it quite stirring and very fitting to the scenes. I'm sure that most Alamo or history buffs in general would find this early silent version about the Alamo very interesting despite some differences and special features which are explained by the Alamo expert. The rare 1930s educational film made locally in San Antonio also has some special features, and despite its very small budget and extras taken from the unemployment queues, I found it interesting and complementary to the feature film. Overall, I believe this nice DVD edition should please the history and old/rare film buff, as well as add a significant piece of film history to any collection."