October 2011

Review: The Alamo Movie Tie-In Novelization

A look at Frank Thompson's novelization of the 2004 movie

The Alamo.  Who has not heard of the epic, 13-day siege and tragic final assault by Antonio Lopze de Santa Anna’s army on the fort which had the fabled trio of William Travis, David Crockett, and Jim Bowie amongst its defenders?  Who cannot think of it and Texas in the same thought?

Many books and films have been devoted to it, which comes as no surprise considering the saga’s place in the pages of history.

In 2004 Touchstone Pictures released The Alamo, a film not related to the John Wayne title of the same name which valiantly tried to tell the story with more focus on historical accuracy but floundered on a tepid script and bad editing choices, which was a pity, as Billy Bob Thornton put in a fine performance as Davy Crockett, whose legend stands in equal stature with the place he died in.

Frank Thompson’s novelization begins in Washington, D.C., during the last year Davy was a Congressman and goes from there to the start of the Texas Revolution at Gonzales, Texas, through the capture of San Antonio by Jim Bowie’s Texans, to the fatal siege and fall of the Alamo, and then continues with the capture and mass killing of most of Colonel James W. Fannin’s men at Goliad and then finally we get to the revenge at San Jacinto and Santa Anna’s capture.

Review: The Long Death, The Last Days Of The Plains Indian

A look at the classic work penned by Ralph Andrist

This has got to be one of the books I have read again and again its prose is so engaging.  Another reason for its appeal to me can be summed up by Dee Brown, who writes in the introduction to the new edition

“Ralph Andrist was one of the first historians of the American Indian wars to perceive that the story should be told facing eastward towards the invading Europeans rather than facing westward toward the defending tribes.”   Indeed, Andrist writes with a pen quite sympathetic to the Indians and what they suffered at the hands of the white man as they slowly pushed them westward.  From the chapter “As Long As The Grass Shall Grow” to “The Last Small Wars”, Andrist dispassionately paints a vivid picture of the white man’s green and betrayal of the Indians without putting them on a pedestal; for example, he does not gloss over any of the vicious acts the Indians committed during the Minnesota Uprising of 1862, nor, indeed, does he call them flawless as warriors in fair fights such as the Fetterman battle, commenting about the Indians at the latter “Despite their enormous superiority in numbers, they made no move to attack [Captain Ten Eyck’s relief force]—this is one of the mysteries of the Indian character, why, when they held an overwhelming advantage, they did not make the most of it.  They apparently had to celebrate and digest one triumph before moving on to another.”  Nevertheless, the Indians were very wronged by the white man, as Andrist sums up in passages such as his depiction of the relationship between the Indians, white traders, and the annuity money supposedly for the Sioux living in Minnesota at the time of their rebellion: “By 1862 the traders had established a foolproof credit system.  They sold goods to the Sioux on credit, chargeable against the Indians cash annuity.  At annuity time, when the pay tables were set up, the traders were on hand.  As each Indian stepped forward, the traders called out their claims and were paid.  The Indian received what was left, if any.  No accounting was demanded; it seems to have occurred to no Indian agent that it was part of his duty to his wards to ask for one.  But, to repeat, a lot of fancy work was being done with Indians’ money.”

There is only one quibble I have with the book, his depiction of George Armstrong Custer as a rash glory hound who disobeyed orders and died at Little Big Horn thanks to it.  Granted, when this book was first published in 1964, that was a prevailing argument against Custer and a growing image in popular culture as well.  More modern scholars might quibble with Andrist over his depiction of the likes of John Chivington or William Fetterman, but my only problem was with Custer.

Apart from that, I would strongly recommend this book for those interested in the American West.

Hope they don't write books about this (proposed) remake

They want to remake "The Wild Bunch"? Seriously?!

I recently read with great dismay the following news article: “EXCLUSIVE: 'Lethal Weapon,' 'Wild Bunch' Reboots Revived After Warner Bros. Exec Shuffle

I’m sorry, but this is, in a word, crazy.  Sure the remake of 3:10 To Yuma was okay, but the original had a more upbeat ending; and with The Wild Bunch, we are not talking about just any old horse opera here, we’re talking about a film whose influence ranged far and wide despite its genre.  In fact, this film is so famous, it has been touched on in many books like Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, a collection of essays edited by Stephen Price, or Doing It Right: The Best Criticism On Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, another collection edited and with an introduction by Michael Bliss; even the title of David Weddle’s autobiography of Peckinpath If They Move … Kill ’Em! derives its title from a famous line uttered by actor William Holden as aging outlaw Pike Bishop moments before Peckinpah’s director’s credit comes up as the scene with Holden momentarily freezes in sepia tone a final time at the start of the movie, all of which begs the question: “Just what does Hollywood think by wanting to remake Peckinpath’s violent opus?”  The answer would, if you ask me, be “Because today’s studio execs have brains the size of BBs.” 

In my opinion, the only book a remake of The Wild Bunch would belong would be, say, 101 Remakes They Didn’t Need To Do, especially when you factor in how Peckinpah’s masterpiece stands so tall among the ranks of legendary movies only the likes of The Bridge On The River Kwai or Lawrence Of Arabia, or High Noon can stand next to it.