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Martyrs of the Alamo (1915)

The story of the defense of the mission-turned-fortress by 185 Texans against an overwhelming Mexican army in 1836.

Director:

(as W. Christy Cabanne)

Writers:

(as W. Christy Cabanne), (novel)
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Cast

Cast overview:
...
Silent Smith
Allan Sears ...
David Crockett (as A.D. Sears)
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Santa Anna
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Fred Burns ...
John T. Dillon ...
Colonel Travis (as John Dillon)
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Old Soldier's Daughter
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Tom Wilson ...
...
Old Soldier
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Storyline

The story of the defense of the mission-turned-fortress by 185 Texans against an overwhelming Mexican army in 1836.

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Genres:

Drama | History | War | Western

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Release Date:

21 November 1915 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Alamo  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Trivia

Although the participation of Douglas Fairbanks in this film, in an uncredited role as "Joe" / "Texan Soldier" is documented in the American Film Institute Catalog of Feature Films 1911-1920, it is based on a reference found in the New York Times 22 November 1915, but not in any review of the film itself. Since Fairbanks was a leading player on the New York stage at this time, and about to make his screen debut as the star of The Lamb (1915), such an uncredited and unidentifiable bit is unlikely, but not impossible. Nowhere in the film is Fairbanks visible today, nor is there any character named "Joe". A Negro servant, obviously an unidentified white actor in black makeup, is prominent in a couple of scenes and might be Fairbanks, just experimenting, anonymously, with working in front of the camera, at the same studio (Fine Arts) for whom he was about to film "The Lamb", but this is a long shot. See more »

Connections

Version of The Time Tunnel: The Alamo (1966) See more »

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User Reviews

 
Birth to Texas
25 October 2009 | by See all my reviews

"The Birth of a Nation" was the most influential film in this art form's history, and its impact on subsequent pictures can be seen in those released shortly thereafter to those made many years later, but few other films so markedly demonstrate that influence than this one, "Martyrs of the Alamo". This is seen from the opening subtitle, "The Birth of Texas", as well as in its structure, filming and editing of battle scenes, its racist depiction of Mexicans, and its glorification of white Americans and white women's virtue. Like the director of "Martyrs of the Alamo", Christy Cabanne, most of the film's actors were Griffith veterans, too. Fred Burns, Sam De Grasse, Allan Sears, Tom Wilson, and Walter Long all worked on "The Birth of a Nation", and Alfred Paget had also been a Griffith regular. Griffith himself probably didn't directly have much to do with this one, concentrating mostly on his own films, but it was one of the many Triangle pictures that he oversaw in a supervising capacity.

Like "The Birth of a Nation", "Martyrs of the Alamo" is also historically inaccurate. Many of the inaccuracies seem to be made to imitate Griffith's narrative. Others, such as the odd-looking Alamo and frequency of coonskin caps are less accounted for. One of the main impetuses for the Texas Revolution is ludicrously proposed to have been to protect the virtue of the female settlers from America. One title cards reads: "Under the dictator's rule the honor and life of American womanhood was held in contempt." This is augmented by scenes of loafing Mexican militiamen harassing female American settles and disrespecting the men--mostly by not moving out of their way when they're passing by. Likewise, in "The Birth of a Nation", when blacks took control, they legislated interracial marriage, which was a euphemism for black men raping white women, with the KKK then depicted as the saviors of the white woman's virtue. On the issue of race, there are also a few characters in blackface, but they're mostly in the background of "Martyrs of the Alamo"; not surprisingly, the film makes no mention of Mexico's prohibition of slavery and the opposition to that by American immigrants to Texas.

This film is also highly derivative of "The Birth of a Nation" and other Griffith films in its adoption and imitation of his grammar and technique for filming battle scenes. It's that the imitation isn't bad that makes this picture entertaining. The editing is nicely fast paced, although occasionally choppy. There's extensive focus on individual skirmishes and crosscutting between those scenes. Varied camera positions are employed, including iris long shots. These sequences aren't nearly as good as those in Griffith's mature work (which were aided by cinematographer G.W. Bitzer and editors James and Rose Smith), but they're better than some other later derivative battle scenes, in addition to pre-Griffith filmed battle scenes. Nevertheless, Cabanne and his crew really don't do anything innovative; it's copied from Griffith and his coworkers. One slight exception in differing style might be the extensive use of fades in "Martyrs of the Alamo", but they're uneven in length and purpose and often contribute to the sense of choppy editing.

Some of the acting and characters in this film are rather amusing for 1915. James Bowie and Davy Crockett are played like a buddy duo from their introduction, and Paget (he also played Prince Belshazzar in "Intolerance") and Sears (also good in "Sold for Marriage"), as two of the better character actors of their day, never over-dramatized their parts. Long, however, hammed his part the most, which I think helps to deflect some of the inaccuracies and bigotry of the film. In addition to having played the Mexican leader Santa Anna here, Long played Gus in "The Birth of a Nation", the black villain who tried to rape Mae Marsh's childlike character. As Santa Anna, Long seems to have relished using broad gestures and grimacing his face. The title cards even make his character more over-the-top, especially one that describes him thusly, "An inveterate drug fiend, the Dictator of Mexico also famous for his shameful orgies." Also, Douglas Fairbanks supposedly had a bit part somewhere, this being before he became a star, but I didn't catch it. Overall, this is an entertaining imitation.

(Note: The print shows signs of deterioration, but it's slight enough. The DVD quality is good for being a budget edition, and I found the score by Michael Boldt to be surprisingly and appropriately exciting, but there's an annoying Alamo trademark in the corner of the screen, which is constant. )


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