Great movie scene (which I missed when it first came out)

When it came out in 2004, I had little urge to see the latest Hollywood interpretation of “The Alamo” — the one with Billy Bob Thornton portraying Davy Crockett. Partly because I was almost half a century past my coonskin-cap phase, partly because I had heard that the portrayal of Davy was somewhat… postmodern… which I didn’t really need even if I had put Davy-worship behind me, and partly because I just generally didn’t hear much good about it. On Netflix it only gets about two-and-a-half stars.

That was a mistake on my part. I caught some of it on TV recently, and have now ordered it from Netflix so I can see the first third or so, which I had missed.

The centerpiece is the portrayal of Crockett, which is really awesome. It’s deep, and appealing. And very human. This is the iconoclastic politician who (as confirmed by my favorite-ever historical plaque, on the courthouse square in Jackson, TN) told voters who had refused to re-elect him to Congress, “You can go to hell, but I am going to Texas!” This was one of the nation’s first larger-than-life celebrities.

I don’t know whether the real man was anything like this, but watching this movie I am persuaded by Thornton that he IS Davy Crockett. Even more so than Fess Parker, which means a lot coming from a child of the ’50s.

This scene, in which Davy muses on the price of living up to public expectations, encapsulates the performance well. Check it out. The interplay between Jim Bowie’s taunting cynicism and Davy’s sincere, patient self-awareness is pretty powerful. And in case this violates any copyright — come on, guys, I’m trying to get people to check out your movie!

6 thoughts on “Great movie scene (which I missed when it first came out)

  1. Brad

    This is quite fascinating. Among the links I ran into when looking up facts about Davy Crockett before posting this was this book he wrote (or at least, was attributed to him) as a political attack on Martin Van Buren, whom he seemed to like even less than he did Andy Jackson. The opening of the first chapter expresses similar ambivalence — actually, more like scorn — toward his own celebrity.

    After suggesting that Jackson (at least that’s who I assume is meant by “the Gin’rul”), Black Hawk and he are the three biggest celebrities, or at least curiosities, in the country, he observes:

    I mention these things to show what curiosity will do, and that if accident or any thing else ever jostles a man out of the path nature put him in, from that moment the crowd rushes round him, like a fight in a court-yard, and they never quit him till they make a great man OF HIM, and a fool of THEMSELVES…

  2. Burl Burlingame

    The movie is excellent, and as accurate as possible given what little we know about the 13-day siege. (Crockett arrived too early, assuming the fighting was over, and was essentially trapped.) He’s portrayed as more of a politician than a mythological figure. There is depth to all the historical figures (John Sayles helped with the screenplay) and that includes Santa Anna. No sugar-coating either — the Texicans want their freedom, but they also want their slaves.
    A good read on the subject is Steve Harrington’s novel “The Gates of the Alamo.”

  3. Brad

    Yes, he’s portrayed as a politician, but more to the point, he’s portrayed as a human being, who is ambivalently trying to live up to the mythology, while not really buying it himself.

    I love that self-deprecating grin he gives, and the glance away from Bowie, as he prepares to tell him why he started wearing the coonskin cap.

    There was an earlier scene in which Bowie had tried to brush off questions from Crockett about HIS legendary exploits, but found he couldn’t just dismiss someone as plain and straightforward as Davy is portrayed here.

    I also really like the scene in which 30 or so men manage to join the garrison at The Alamo (having entered through the gap in the lines Santa Ana had left for Houston). THEY think they’re part of a larger force, and the men in the Alamo had EXPECTED them to be part of a larger force, and as the huge disappointment starts to register on everyone (actually, “disappointment” is way too weak, as they are all realizing that hope is lost), Davy realizes that something positive needs to be said about these men who have essentially just committed their lives by coming there. He says something like, “Y’all are the prettiest bunch of Texians I ever did see.” Causing others who were already there to realize they should at least show some gratitude toward the newcomers.

    Thereby showing that, among the three “colonels” in the old mission, he is the one with some actual leadership ability…

    So there’s this interesting tension between legend and realism, between the ordinary and extraordinary, that makes the character and the movie compelling.

  4. Scout

    My brother-in-law, Alan Huffines, is an historian of the Alamo and has written several books about it. He was an adviser on the film. I know he takes his history very seriously. I’m sure to the extent that he was able to exert his influence, it is accurate. I do kind of recall him talking at the time about details where he advised one thing and they did another, but I can’t remember those details now.

  5. Jim Cross

    A new biography of David Crockett is out–_David Crockett: The Lion of the West_ by Michael Wallis. The author has also written books on Billy the Kid and Route 66 and hosts the PSB series “American Roads.”


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