Not the Last or the First Alamo Movie
Having been against William Travis' (Richard Carlson) cry to rebel, Jim Bowie (Sterling Hayden) returns to see his old friend General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana (J. Carrol Naish) to try and broker some sort of peace. But whilst there Jim receives the news that his beloved wife has died in the plague. Despite getting Santa Ana to agree to a couple of things not much changes and a year on down the line Bowie finds himself siding with Travis and along with the help of Davy Crockett (Arthur Hunnicutt) and a small group of men attempt to defend The Alamo Mission from Santa Ana and his huge army.
Whilst John Wayne's "The Alamo" is one of the better known movies which covers the legendary siege at The Alamo is wasn't the first. In fact whilst coming 5 years earlier "The Last Command" wasn't the first either but is still a surprisingly good movie. It may not have the big budget and star power of "The Alamo" but "The Last Command" does an equally solid job of blending fact with fiction to retell the story of how Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett, William B. Travis and a small band of men tried to defend the Alamo Mission from Santa Ana and his massive army. But the thing which makes "The Last Command" different to "The Alamo" is that the story revolves around Jim Bowie and starts long before the actual siege at The Alamo takes place. It still seems to be a movie which is out of balance, spending longer digging into Bowie's past than the actual siege but despite some flaws it works.
So as already mentioned "The Last Command" focuses on Jim Bowie and his involvement in the legendary siege at The Alamo, starting a year or so before the trouble with him being a friend of Santa Ana. The entire first half of the movie sets about digging into Bowie's history, how he found himself opposed to Travis's plans to fight due to his friendship and how his wife died due to the plague. It also establishes a romantic subplot which sees the young Consuelo de Quesada falling for him whilst a young man, Jeb Lacey, in turn has fallen for her. And on top of that it establishes that not only was Jim Bowie a formidable fighter but also a very easy going man who preferred to walk away from a fight.
Now all of this back story is good but with it taking up pretty much the entire first half of "The Last Command" you do wonder when the movie is eventually going to get to the actual siege. Well it does get there but not before we get the issues which form between Bowie and Travis leading to the men in The Alamo to elect Bowie as their leader. What this really means is that whilst all this is interesting the actual siege of The Alamo takes up less than a quarter of the movie which to me is wrong. The battle should be more central and in some ways is over and done with so quickly that it is a bit of a let down. Although having said that it is a let down it also has to be said that the actual is full on. The fighting feels un-choreographed and raw making it feel like a bloody skirmish where people got hurt. It is in many ways the movies saving grace because this isn't big budget action but it feels real and draws you in.
What also doesn't let things down is the casting as whilst some of the dialogue borders on the cheesy and there is some serious playing to the camera the pivotal actors do create characters. Sterling Hayden leads the movie nicely as Jim Bowie; he plays him as a very decent man who is tough and legendary but also someone who is amiable and peace seeking. Hayden makes him feel more than just a cardboard creation and the same can be said of Arthur Hunnicutt who gives Davy Crockett an almost comical slant with his back water attitude. Where it sadly doesn't work is in the casting of Anna Maria Alberghetti as Consuelo de Quesada and Ernest Borgnine as Mike Radin because sadly both end up playing to the camera in almost every single scene.
What this all boils down to is that "The Last Command" is another good western which delves into the siege of The Alamo focussing on the character of Jim Bowie and how he came to be part of this legendary battle. It does suffer because the story seems out of balance with the actual battle only taking up a fraction of the movie but even so the picture it paints of Jim Bowie being this legendary man who whilst tough was also peace loving makes for an interesting movie.