The ‘60s was the decade of the all-star epic and Wayne appeared in three. The Longest Day (1962) saw him winning WWII again, this time as Lt. Col. Benjamin Vandervoort, with the film recreating the D-Day landings. In How the West Was Won (1962) he was General William Tecumseh Sherman, a part he’d previously played two years earlier when he made a rare TV appearance on Wagon Train. “Truly, this man was the son of God” was his contribution to The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) a film that saw him hopelessly miscast as the Roman Centurion at Christ’s crucifixion.
It was also the decade that marked the final Wayne/Ford teaming, Donovan’s Reef (1963). It’s the weakest of their films together, falling way short of classic status. But it’s still a film that a real Wayne fan can enjoy (perhaps only a real Wayne fan); it’s just a shame they couldn’t have finished with a movie that could stand comparison with The Searchers or She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.
Wayne also worked with Howard Hawks again on the fun African adventure film Hatari! (1962) and on the semi-remake of Rio Bravo, El Dorado (1966). Three other directors would have a big impact on his films in the ‘60s, Henry Hathaway, Andrew V. McLaglen, and Wayne himself.
The Alamo (1960)
The Alamo was Wayne’s dream project and a film he felt so strongly about that he invested a lot of his own money in it. It was also the film that marked his directorial debut.
This epic recreation of the most famous battle in the fight for Texas independence is a deeply flawed film. There are too many speeches — even when the characters aren’t actually giving speeches, just making conversation, they often come across as pompous. It’s this preachy atmosphere that puts many off and gets the film a lot of negative reviews. If you can get past that, however, there is plenty to enjoy here.
The performances, when not inhibited by the script's heavy-handedness, are good. Wayne makes a convincing Davy Crockett, easygoing, outspoken, and charismatic; it’s easy to see why men would follow him into battle. As Jim Bowie, Richard Widmark is a more reluctant leader, one who is fighting for his home, not just an ideal.
Laurence Harvey, as the straight-laced William Travis, gives a performance I’ve come to appreciate more as I’ve gotten older. Watching as a boy, he seemed far too stiff and, frankly, dull. But now I find he’s actually the most complex character of the three leads and Harvey’s is in some ways the most interesting performance. Crockett is fighting for a dream, Bowie for his home, but what motivates Travis? Is it blind devotion to duty? Self-serving ambition? Or a belief that what they are doing is simply the right thing to do? There is a touch of all of these and more in Harvey’s Travis.