I was thinking earlier today about last Saturday’s visit to the Alamo in downtown San Antonio, and then about John Wayne‘s The Alamo — a mostly respectable stab at a kind of epic historical grandeur that was de riguer in the ’50s and ’60s.
For decades the film has taken shots for being too long and jingoistic (i.e., spoon-fed rightwing patriotism) and for being historically fanciful, but otherwise it’s a relatively satisfying, better-than-decent effort. The performances are fine (especially Laurence Harvey as William B. Travis) But I can’t remember a single scene that I would call truly great. The night-before scene in which the doomed Alamo defenders talk about values and families and facing death is probably the best, but it’s not one for the ages, at least not by my yardstick.
But Dimitri Tiomkin‘s score is legendary. Particularly the overture track and the “Green Leaves of Summer” theme. It succeeds on its own terms better than the film itself.
From “Musical Score as Strong Supporting Character“, posted on 6.17.19. “I’ve written a few times about the four different kinds of film scores — (a) old-school orchestral, strongly instructive (telling you what’s going on at almost every turn), (b) emotional but lullingly so, guiding and alerting and magically punctuating from time to time (like Franz Waxman‘s score for Sunset Boulevard), (c) watching the movie along with you, echoing your feelings and translating them into mood music (like Mychael Danna‘s score for Moneyball), and (d) so completely and harmoniously blended into the fabric of the film that you’ll have a hard time remembering a bridge or a bar after the film ends.”
Tiomkin’s Alamo overture is mostly an (a). He was basically announcing that while his score reflects to some extent Texas history and period aroma, the music was primarily about itself, and about Tiomkin’s ability to sell a certain emotional feeling.
Excerpt #2: “We all understand that the era of classic film scores — composed by Miklos Rosza, Bernard Herrman, Franz Waxman, Max Steiner, Maurice Jarre, Alex North, Dimitri Tiomkin, Bronislau Kaper, Ennio Morricone, Leonard Rosenman, Nino Rota, Elmer Bernstein, Alfred Newman, Hugo Friedhofer and Jerry Goldsmith — is over and done with. Their work (i.e., the artful supplying of unmissable emotional undercurrents for mainstream, big-studio films that peaked between the mid 1930s and late ’70s) belongs to movie-score cultists now. It’s sad to contemplate how one day these awesome creations will be absent from playlists entirely.”