Monday, February 11, 2019

The Last Command (1955)

Promotional Still from The Last Command (1955). The film was shot in TruColor. (Photo Source)

Director Frank Lloyd's The Last Command (1955) tells the story of Jim Bowie (Sterling Hayden) and the events leading up to the Battle of the Alamo in 1836. Tensions between the Mexican government and American settlers in the territory of Texas, before it became a state in 1845, were high. Bowie hears of the imprisonment of political prisoner Austin (Otto Kruger) and pleads with William B. Travis (Richard Carlson) and Mike Radin (Ernest Borgnine) for a peaceful resolution. Having fought with Mexican General Santa Anna (J. Carroll Naish) and marrying a Mexican citizen, he feels some loyalty to that side until young Jeb Lacey (Ben Cooper) tells him of the Mexican's mistreatment of Americans. Things shift for Bowie when he meets Consuelo (Anna Maria Alberghetti), a beautiful teenager whose father supports the American side. Tragic loss and illness comes to Bowie and when it becomes clear that Santa Anna will attack, Bowie, Davy Crockett (Arthur Hunnicutt), Travis and their men must prepare for a battle of no return.

This film is perhaps most well-known for its connection to John Wayne. A few years earlier Wayne had wanted to make this film with Herb Yates of Republic Pictures. These two could not see eye-to-eye on the project. Wayne wanted to film in Mexico and Yates insisted on Texas. The two had a falling out which resulted in Yates making the film without him. Wayne left Republic and directed, produced and starred in his own version of the story The Alamo (1960). Yates and Wayne never spoke to each other again and as a big middle finger to Yates, Wayne re-used a lot of the same sets that were in Yates' film.

Promotional shot of Anna Maria Alberghetti and Sterling Hayden from The Last Command (1955). (Photo Source)

The Last Command (1955) is not exceptional but is enjoyable. Hayden is perfectly suited to play the loner and free spirited Bowie. The sheer size of Hayden dwarfs pretty much every other cast member. He was truly larger-than-life in more ways than one. The Consuelo-Bowie love story was frustrating. When they meet Bowie is married and Consuelo is only 17 years old. The plot conveniently gets rid of Bowie's wife and children with the plague making room for their affair. In real life Bowie did suffer this devastating loss but it seems Consuelo only exists to add a love story to the film. I'm not well-versed in the history of the Battle of the Alamo and the key figures involved. From what I understand, this film does a good job staying true to the historical events but also using fictional elements to delivering the story as entertainment. According to the AFI, director Frank Lloyd said the following:

"The addition of fiction to fact is permissible and often dramatically desirable so long as the fiction does not contradict the fact, but is presented as a logical and reasonable development. It is the perversion of facts, not their augmentation, that destroys authenticity."

The movie is well-worth watching not only for the cast but also the attention to detail that went into the costumes by Adele Palmer, for Max Steiner's score and for the great battle scenes. There is a great knife fight scene between Ernest Borgnine and Sterling Hayden that reminded me of Borgnine's fight with Montgomery Clift in From Here to Eternity which released a couple years before.




The Last Command (1955) is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. When you use my buy links you help support this site. Thanks!

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray is from a brand new HD master from a 4K scan of the 35mm Trucolor original negative. It includes audio commentary by Alamo historian Frank Thompson and a variety of Kino Lorber trailers.

While the publicity stills above are in black-and-white the film was shot in Trucolor.

Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me a copy of The Last Command (1955) for review.

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