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John Wayne’s ‘The Alamo’ and the Devoted Slave (Should the Film be Saved?)

John Wayne’s 'The Alamo' and the Devoted Slave (Should the Film be Saved?)

So right now you’re probably saying to yourself, there he
goes again talking about some old movie made before I was born. True, but I can’t
help it. It’s what I love and grew up with, and those old films still have a bigger impact
on me than a lot the stuff that comes out nowadays. So here I go with another

But, as always, a bit of background first.

Robert A. Harris is true film savior. The legendary film
restoration and preservation archivist has been responsible for saving some of
the most important films made during the 1960’s and 1970’s as film prints, archival
footage and material rapidly deteriorate. Once they’re gone, the film is too.

His work on restoring and preserving the original
theatrical versions of films as such the “Godfather
I” and “II,” David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia,” Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”
and “Rear Window.” George Cukor’s “My Fair Lady” and, most recently, Stanley Kramer’s 1963 three-and-a-half-hour slapstick comedy epic “It’s a Mad
Mad Mad Mad World,” deserve nothing but praises.

However, for the past few years, Harris has been on a mission
to restore and preserve a rather unlikely contender – the 1960 United Artists road show epic “The
Alamo,” starring and directed by John Wayne, about the 13-day siege of the fort in 1836, while defended by Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and a bunch of other volunteers, fighting
for Texas’ freedom from Mexico.

The film was a passion project for Wayne for many years, and
finally, in 1959, he made the film, for what was then the astounding amount of $6 million, half of it from UA, with Wayne
and his production company Batjac, providing
the other half. The film was actually a box office hit, but it wiped out Wayne
financially, and it took him years to recover.

The film is one of those huge road show epics, popular during the 50’s and 60’s, at
the time shot in the 70MM Todd-AO
anamorphic film process, and ran, originally, some 202 minutes, including an overture, intermission and exit music,
though UA later recut the film to a more manageable 167 minutes for general screenings, TV broadcasts and later home

However, several years ago, a 70 MM print of the original
202 minute version was discovered and put into storage, where it’s been deteriorating
ever since, and Harris has been trying to restore this version to its full glory, before it’s lost forever. However it’s been a struggle for various reasons, including
a genuine lack of interest.

Then two weeks ago, Harris created a controversy on the blogosphere
and among film geeks, when he wrote that the film print and other materials were
rapidly decaying at a more rapid pace, and that MGM/UA basically didn’t care
if the original version of the film was lost for good.

MGM immediately replied, saying that Harris’ accusations were not
true, and that they keep constant tabs on the condition of the materials, and
that there’s nothing to worry about. Although, they vaguely implied that it’s not
a top priority for them to restore the film right now. That may be somewhat
understandable, considering the studio is strapped for cash and can’t really
afford to spend millions to restore a 202 minute version of a film that would
have limited appeal.

So, all right and good, right? But what does this
have to do with anything? I’ll get to that in minute.

The question to ask is, why aren’t MGM/UA and other people so anxious to restore “The Alamo”? Well, there is one good reason; one that even Harris himself has somewhat
reluctantly admitted.

The fact of the matter is that, “The Alamo” just isn’t
good. In fact it sucks! Believe me, I know. I’ve seen it more than once to know that, and if you don’t believe, me take a look below at what director John Landis says about the film, courtesy of the Trailers from Hell website.

Now consider “Lawrence of Arabia,” “The Godfather” films, and “Vertigo.” Those are genuine classics. Great films by master filmmakers
worthy of being preserved. “The Alamo,” directed Wayne, who was a lousy director when
he occasionally stepped behind the camera in films he starred in, like his 1968
film “The Green Berets,” is flatfooted and clumsy.

Granted the film’s battle sequences as directed by Wayne and
his army of second unit directors, including John
Ford, are exciting and impressive, with a real epic sense of grandeur. It’s
just that, all the stuff leading up to those sequences, is stiff, dull, with terrible dialogue, as characters give endless speeches about “Freedom, Library and Republic,” instead
of having real, meaningful dialogue. It’s like a Tea Party convention instead of a movie.

However, there’s another reason why there is not such a great
desire to restore the film. It’s not very PC either..

In particular, I’m referring to Jethro, the slave of Jim
Bowie, played by Jester Hairston,
who, some of you might remember, played the role of Rolly Forbes for years on the NBC sit-com “Amen,” during the late 80’s (He’s on the far-right/upfront in the above photo).

Now you could argue that it’s a historically accurate depiction; that
the founding fathers of the America were hypocrites, who always talked about freedom
and liberty for all men… except for
black people, that is, who they believed were better off being slaves.

And the character Jethro is not just routine old slave, but a truly devoted one to Bowie, following him everywhere he goes. I can’t even
recall if he has a single line of dialogue, but he’s always just there.

And, of course, there’s the classic scene at the climax where
Bowie, in bed, seriously wounded during the Alamo surge, is attacked by Mexican
soldiers with bayonets, as his slave Jethro, ever devoted to the end, runs and throws
himself in front of the soldiers to protect Massa, only to be killed along with Bowie. Even as a kid, when I saw the scene on TV for the first time, I thought to myself: “Really?”

Interestingly, Richard
Widmark – who played Bowie, and who worked with Sidney Poitier on several films, like “The Long Ships,” “The Bedford Incident” and “No Way Out,” and who was a lifelong friend of Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis – was a well-known and quite vocal liberal, who was very progressive
on social issues. So you would think he would have had second thoughts about
playing the Bowie character; but it doesn’t appear that he did.

Also, remember, this film came out in 1960, not 1940 or 1950, so the image of the devoted slave in a
big budget Hollywood movie during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, in the midst of racial turmoil in the country, wasn’t a good idea, you would think. Then again, Wayne
was a very well known hard-line right-winger, and it’s very possible that he consciously
had Jethro in the film to tell audiences that, all the “equal rights” stuff was a load
of nonsense, and that black people should follow Jethro’s example, and go back to being devoted and subservient.  

And this is why I’m not that keen on seeing a restored 202
minute version of “The Alamo” on the big screen, or on Blu-ray. O.K. maybe I’ll take a look at it once, if only for curiosity’s sake, and I’m sure it’ll look impressive,
but is it really worth it?

Here’s John Landis on The Alamo:

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Dan. D. Phillips

Letting a film deteriorate because it doesn’t represent modern PC thinking would condemn GONE WITH THE WIND to that sort of fate. And I can’t sit through GONE WITH THE WIND…but anyone else who can is welcome to watch it.


I believe "The Alamo" should be restored. I don’t believe in pushing Political Correctness on a film that is a classic. Some people will use the PC point too push their own agenda. It needs to stop! That’s the character that Jester Hairston chose to play. No one had a gun too his head saying "You better play the character Jethro." RESTORE THE ALAMO!!!

mike ward

I saw this film in its full glory and full running time.I really enjoyed it.Restore it back to its directors cut quality with intro intermission and exit music I would certainly buy it straight away

mike ward

I thought The Alamo was a good film and truly deserves restoration to its former glory.l will buy it on blue ray as soon as it is issued,,…Mike Ward


Sitting here watching this movie again right now upto where they steal cattle. Pc not interested ,yes old boy has a Line "m old but your wrong" anyway to preserve or not to? Yes a great old movie. In this day and age it’s still playing. I’d rather watch this old girl than another rerun of Harry Poter. And no I do not want that movie in my collection Helll yes preserve the Alamo.

mike ward

I think The Alamo deserves restoration. I thought it was a brilliant film when I first saw it in its full glory.l hope the full length blue ray disc is not too far away. I will certainly buy it.

Jody Taylor

I think it’s a good film – cheesy in parts, yes – but quite a good film and well acted. I especially liked the mix: Lawrence Harvey with Widmark was an unusual casting. The writing isn’t all that flash, but film is primarily a VISUAL medium anyway. Go for it!

Robert Roth

The Alamo was released more than 55 years ago. The dialogue in the movie concerning freedom, liberty and republic reflect the views of the majority of Americans at that time. While there were some liberals floating around (especially in Hollywood) they were insignificant in relation to the number of left wing socialist that are trying to ruin this country.
As to Jehtro, todays socialits might not think it to be PC. When the movie was released, the there was no PC. Jehtro reflected the real condition of 1836. In 1960 people did not find it offensive to present reality. Today, the onlye reality presented is the false left wing liberal viewpoint.
In 1960, I was 12 years old and thought the Alamo was great. Today, I am 66 years old and still think it is great. Sorry but today, as many right wingers remain as their are liberals

Robert Roth

pc and political point of view


Not only does the Jethro character speak but he is presented as being both articulate and a character whose opinions the other defenders respect. Did you actually see this movie? If so you missed the whole point. And you also must have missed the scene in which Bowie frees Jethro and the former slave stays on to defend the fort with his former “masters” because “that’s what you folks are fighting for.” So when he throws himself in front of those bayonets in the sequence you found so offense, he was doing this as a free man making his own decisions. Kind of changes things, doesn’t it?
You don’t seem to understand this Sergio, which is too bad, but any art, whether you agree with its viewpoint or not, is worthy of preservation. I don’t think you would advocate burning book would you. So what’s the difference? I really do dislike political correctness. Especially when whatever it is being slandered by the PC police is being misrepresented.


By all means it should be saved! It’s a Hollywood classic and very well done.
I’m surprised they even have to ask or think about it.
It has to be saved and uncut if possible!

James Madewell

Every time I hear the word "politically correct", it turns my stomach! Eventhough this movie is full of non-historical correct scenes, it’s one of the greatest John Wayne movies made. As far as the political speeches, if you don’t appreciate what Wayne was trying to convey, you must really be a moron!


The movie was a commercial flop. It only received nominations because Wayne lobbied so hard for it. Pure politics. Leave it to rust away like it was.


Well, you may think it's a lousy film, but you are certainly in the minority.
Wayne's version of The Alamo, while probably the least accurate, is the most entertaining. As for Jethro having no dialog, I suggest you watch it again, as he does. And not PC? Really? That's why you think it shouldn't be restored? Good grief. As for Landis, he's also in the minority. There are plenty of film makers with much better track records who support a restoration of The Alamo.


Django Unchained, filmed 50 years after The Alamo, had a 'devoted slave' character played by Samuel Jackson. You might think it's not 'PC' but it MAY be historically accurate. (I hate the idea of abused wives who remain devoted to their abusing husbands, but we know that happens too.) The PC argument is very weak.

As for Landis, isn't he the guy responsible for the deaths of Vic Morrow and two children? Like I really care for his opinion.

The Alamo is a film by and starring one of the greatest stars in Hollywood history! It deserves to be restored! These PC arguments drive me potty.

F. R. Otis

My views are similar to those of TC in the being politically correct or not should not be part of the decision to save the original version of a film or not. John Wayne was a unique person in the history of movies and America. Just from the standpoint history the orignal version of the movie should be saved. I was not a big supporter of the movie "Reds" or of it's director as it has specific political point of view but I believe it should also be saved in it's original version. Film history is that film history each film has its own unique place besides being entertainment it says much about the makers (producers, directors, writers, and actors) and gives us a glimpse ourselves and society at a point and place in time.

TC Kirkham

In my view, PC issues should not come into reasoning when it is time to decide about the restoration of a classic film; PC issues are a point of view, and a product of their time, that's it. Period. Not everyone will agree with everything – and if they did, it would be a truly boring world. For example, despite being not just overly un-PC but out and out racist, you would be hard pressed to make an argument that Birth Of A Nation wouldn't deserve to be preserved because of it's status as a film overall.

Only quality should be the giving factor when it comes to preservation. If a film is a quality work, the hell with PC issues, restore the film, and use the opportunity to explain WHY the film is the way it is, why it is no longer PC and how it can be corrected. Use the opportunity to discuss, not discard.

Just my 2 cents…

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