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Tuesday November 13th 2018

The Alamo | 1960

Alamo location: Brackettville, Texas
Alamo location: the set at Brackettville, Texas

John Wayne’s lumbering epic, a long, long way from the historical truth, actually began filming in Mexico – there’s not much of the real Alamo left – but this proved too expensive.

Even so, at $7,500,000, The Alamo was the costliest movie made at the time. The production was closed down and restarted at Brackettville on Highway 90, about 100 miles west of San Antonio toward Del Rio, West Texas, where Wayne leased 400 acres of a 22,000 acre ranch belonging to one JT ‘Happy’ Shahan, and the Alamo was rebuilt.

The full-sized facsimile, which took two years to complete, used the original plans, the traditional adobe techniques and – without any apparent irony – a largely Mexican workforce of 5,000. It was claimed at the time to be the biggest movie set outside Hollywood.

And it stayed there, as a tourist attraction as well as a location for many subsequent movies. Extensions acquired over the years include a section of San Antonio which metamorphoses over its length to become Fort Worth of the 1880s. Alamo Village stands just north of Brackettville itself, on Route 674.

Mr Shahan’s widow died in 2009 and the village was closed down to the public. It opened, in a reduced form, during Summer 2010, but has since closed again, although there are supposedly plans to renovate it.

Wayne’s mentor, John Ford, proved unable to resist giving advice to his old pal until Wayne packed him off to film second unit shots. Ford’s scenes include the wide shot of Santa Ana’s initial approach on the Alamo and the Mexican soldiers crossing the river.

The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas
The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas

The real The Alamo, in San Antonio, was founded as the Mission San Antonio de Valero in 1718, the first in a chain of missions built along the San Antonio River to extend the frontier of the Spanish empire and convert the Native Americans to Catholicism.

It was closed down in 1793 and its lands given to the 39 mission Indians, then occupied on and off by the various forces in control of Texas until it achieved immortality in 1836 when 1,888 Texan volunteers were massacred by Santa Ana’s troops.

Among those who perished in the massacre were American folk heroes Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett, hence Hollywood’s fascination with this bit of US history.

Although the town of San Antonio is shaded by alamo (cottonwood) trees, the name actually comes from a Spanish Cavalry unit from the pueblo of El Alamo de Parras who occupied the old mission in 1801.

The chapel, built in 1756, and the Long Barrack are virtually all that remain of the fortified complex, though the site now also contains the extensive Alamo Memorial Museum, which occupies a 4.2 acre site on Alamo Plaza.

Entry is free, but watch your dress and behaviour here – the place has taken on the status of a shrine. Bare chests and loud shirts are out, hushed voices and solemn patriotism very much in. Remember Ozzy Osbourne.