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Before Boetticher directed his famous series of westerns starring Randolph Scott, most of them for Columbia Pictures, he was under contract to Universal, where he churned out nine not-bad movies over two years. None became a true classic, but most have appealing casts and are engaging enough; The Man From the Alamo is one of the two or three best of the bunch. (The Audie Murphy-starring Cimarron Kid is a minor film.)
After a brief prologue, the story opens at the Alamo, where a messenger (Hugh O'Brian) arrives with the bad news that no reinforcements are to come. A few of the men privately draw lots to determine who will leave the Alamo to return home and look after all of these men's families. John Stroud (Glenn Ford) wins, if that is right word. "Johnny always was unlucky," says one of his friends. Sure enough, Stroud makes it out, finds his family and all the other families dead, and is promptly branded a coward by townspeople for running away from the Alamo where everyone else died. Only a Mexican boy who worked on Stroud's land with his father believes him. Stroud, meanwhile, has discovered the gang of bad guys who killed the families and sets about infiltrating their organization. Pretty Julie Adams plays a townswoman, and we know it's only a matter of time before she comes to believe the truth of the situation. In a series of fast-moving plot turns, Stroud eventually finds himself leading a wagon train of women (and a few old men) a la Westward the Women, as the bad guys close in fast.
Boetticher's directing of Ford outwitting and out-strategizing the villains is most impressive and no-nonsense. Ford always was superb at playing seething, revenge-seeking characters, and this one's no different. Adding to the fun are some mightily impressive stunts and horseplay - especially so because they are shown in uninterrupted takes, proving that they were really achieved and not just edited together to give the illusion of the stunt, as in so many movies today.
In his memoir When in Disgrace, Boetticher for the most part shrugged off this period of his career: "The producers at Universal, with one shining exception - Aaron Rosenberg - beat their brains out trying to teach me that motion pictures were not an art form, but a business venture. Still, I never believed them. For 104 weeks of the first two years [of my contract], with only Sundays off, I directed nine major Universal films. Katy Jurado complained that I was 'making pictures like tortillas,' and she was correct. I worked with a lot of young actors who, eventually, became stars, but the only good thing I seem to remember was the opportunity to become friends with Robert Ryan, Julie Adams, Sidney Poitier, Glenn Ford and Van Heflin. They were pros, who believed as I did that every picture demanded 100% effort."
The Man From the Alamo, which incidentally was produced by the afore-mentioned Aaron Rosenberg, was one of the Universal pictures that Boetticher felt stood a bit above the rest. He was right. It holds up today as an absorbing, well-acted, satisfying western, clocking in at an equally satisfying 80 minutes.
In addition to the two Boetticher films, this box set also comes with The Texans (1938), starring Randolph Scott, and California (1946), with Ray Milland and Barbara Stanwyck. Aside from some trailers, no extras.
For more information about Man From the Alamo, visit Universal Home Entertainment. To order Man From the Alamo, go to TCM Shopping.
by Jeremy Arnold