John Wayne’s film, The Alamo, was vital to the myths about Texas

What we see is what we learn to believe to be true
The Alamo film poster. Incorporates artwork by
Reynold Brown. Public domain

I recently watched The Alamo, the 1960 John Wayne film that created the glorious celluloid legend about the 13-day siege of the former Franciscan chapel by the Mexicans in 1836.

The film dwelt in loving detail on the courage of the Anglo Texians (and their women) as they took on the 7,000-man army of Mexico’s ruler, General Santa Anna. It lingered on the good-heartedness of Davy Crockett, the coonskin hat-wearing legendary American frontiersman from Tennessee. Crockett, like the other 185 or so men who perished in the Alamo, is shown as a doughty upholder of old-fashioned values, not least the love of liberty. By God, is he American and proud to be so.

Despite everything I’ve written about the mythmaking that surrounds the Alamo as a Texas origin story redolent of the finest American values, it was hard not to be moved by the Wayne film. (Click here, here and here for my other blogs on the Alamo.)

And it bears out the great influence of cinema on the cultural narrative of countries and peoples.

The way the film depicts the Battle of the Alamo and the events leading up to it are seared in the popular consciousness of Texans and Americans. The brave and dashing Sam Houston, who heroically tries to train irregulars into a Texas army that will fight the evil General Santa Anna’s engorged forces. The disciplined and tireless Colonel William Travis, his pretty, and courageous cousin, the very maternal Sue Dickinson. Married to Travis’s deputy Captain Almaron Dickinson, Sue refuses to take their little daughter and leave the Alamo along with the other women and children. Instead she and the child stay hidden in one of the rooms, as the husband and father fights to the death for freedom and liberty. They are found by the Mexicans after the Alamo falls. Santa Anna gives them safe passage out of the area to broadcast news of what had happened to the world. In the film, Santa Anna is shown doffing his hat to the brave mother as she leaves the Alamo with her little daughter on a horse. It’s enough to bring tears to one’s eyes. There can be few more stirring visions of the spirit of Texas (and the Anglo US).

The film shows the wisdom of John Wayne in stubbornly persisting with his plan to make a movie about the 1836 battle in exactly the way he had determined, even investing $1.5 million of his own money via second mortgages on his houses.

As we know, there has been no greater disseminator of culture in the history of humankind than the entertainment industry.

What we see is what we learn to believe to be true. Diversity, equity and inclusion is a point in question. With Hollywood now being urged to create more opportunities for people with disabilities both in front and behind the camera, it’s worth noting, as the Ruderman Family Foundation’s open letter to the industry pointed out that in “the history of the Academy Awards, among the 61 Oscar nominees and 27 winners playing characters with a disability, only two were authentically portrayed by an actor with a disability”.

Also read:

Decolonising the Alamo narrative is long overdue

Should we remember the Alamo and just forget the myths?

Glorious myths about the Alamo ‘sacred shine’ draw millions every year