March 6th was the concluding day of the 13-day standoff between the Texan defenders of the Alamo and the Mexican Army. 182 years ago, a small band of Texan rebels held out against an army of thousands, and the legend of those men who died inside the abandoned mission has grown every year since the final fateful day.
Walt Disney himself used the legend that was Davy Crockett as one of his first mega-hits with the Disneyland television show. The adventures of Davy Crockett became a pop culture phenomenon, and if Walt Disney had known that Davy Crockett would have been so popular, he probably wouldn’t have killed him off in the third episode of the series, Davy Crockett at the Alamo.
In celebration of the anniversary of the battle of the Alamo, and after visiting the Alamo myself last April, I thought I would take an honest look at the Disney films with Davy Crockett and the Alamo.
It was February 23rd, 1955 when the third episode of the immensely popular Davy Crockett series ended on the Disneyland TV show, and the main character would die a hero’s death at the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas fighting for independence.
Walt Disney’s introduction to the episode tells us that this is a tribute to the folk hero that is Davy Crockett. Nowhere does Walt try to say that this is a recreation of the actual history of the man who was David Crockett or the battle of the Alamo. This is something to remember as the show starts. Walt Disney never meant for this Fess Parker movie to be a historical documentary. The moment the term folk hero is used, truth is going to take a back seat.
Starting with the popular Ballad of Davy Crockett, we find Davy and his pal Georgie Russell heading west where they encounter a charlatan named Thimblerig. Played by Hans Conried, the man who would voice Captain Hook in the animated Walt Disney Classic Peter Pan, Davy proves that for all of Thimblerig’s skill, he is just a conman and a cheat. Nothing like seeing the pure-hearted Davy Crockett expose a cheat. But wait, in the short time they have met, and even though Crockett has exposed him as a fraud, Thimblerig wants to give up his life and offer his companionship to Davy and Georgie. This is only something that would happen in the movies.
Georgie the loyal friend who already has offered his companionship to Davy, still doesn’t know where he and Davy are heading too. Literally the best friend and constant companion has no idea where they are going. When Davy finally tells him that they are going to Texas, Georgie states with incredulity that Texas is filled with, “rock headed idiots.” But Georgie shrugs his shoulders and agrees to go on. I wonder if Georgie ever made any decisions.
After spending much time thinking about how Davy has changed his life, maybe a few short hours, Thimblerig is insistent on joining him and Georgie to wherever they are going. Davy does his best to shoo him away saying that, “Texas is not a place for a man with wobbly knees.” Translation: You don’t look like you could survive a fight Thimblerig. But the con man counters that he fears what lies behind him, and not what is in the unknown ahead. Translation: Thimblerig has a lot of enemies.
Next traveling the fastest way possible, via map overlay, Davy and company make their way to Texas looking for a settlement. I wonder if Jim Henson was a Davy Crockett fan. Crockett and company encounter a Native American, who initially fights Davy but soon is won over by Crockett’s charm and some form of sign language, leads to them through the Texas landscape.
The native American, who Georgie calls Busted Luck, leads them to the Alamo, where they race in through the Mexican army lines, to find a fort under siege. Somehow, Davy Crockett had no idea things were as bad as they were in Texas. It seems like Crockett really didn’t plan out for this trip as well as he should have.
Jim Bowie, legendary knife fighter, and Colonel of the militia is ill and laid up in bed, while a meek man playing Lieutenant-Colonel Travis, the commanding officer of the regular army soldiers, acts as messenger for Bowie and not a man of high rank in the military. Bowie meets with Crockett alone and confesses immediately to Crockett how dire the situation is. As the days go on, and the situation grows worse, Georgie finally learns how terrible their odds are, and Davy confesses that he knew it from the beginning.
We see some emotion from Georgie Russell. “You couldn’t trust me? I thought we were in this together,” the friend of Crockett storms off. A man who was Davy’s constant travel companion, and Crockett couldn’t be bothered to tell him the truth from the beginning. I wonder if it was because Georgie didn’t want to go to Texas in the first place.
Only after Georgie volunteers to ride out and try to get relief for the Alamo, and returns, do we see some change in the ah shucks persona of Parker’s Crockett. Davy comes storming up to the returned and tired Russell calling him an idiot and asking why he returned. Georgie’s response is a quiet but powerful, “I got lonesome.” A true friend like Russell was never going to leave Davy at the Alamo.
The next few days are one of lonesome boredom as the defenders of the Alamo wait. They fend off multiple small attacks, with Davy and Georgie spending the time recounting their epic adventures. The Mexican Army bugle call of no surrender plays constantly throughout the scenes.
When the final attack comes, and the sheer numbers of the Mexican army breach the walls of the Alamo our heroes start to die. Busted Luck dies saving Thimblerig, but the charlatan swindler soon dies after. The meek and mild Travis dies. Georgie Russell dies while trying to fire a canon to repel the invading army, but not before he encourages his friend Davy to give them what for. Finally, the last hero left at the Alamo, David Crockett of Tennessee dies on the parapet, swinging his rifle at the approaching army. We don’t see Crockett die, the scene cuts to the Mexican flag turning to the Texas flag, and a soft version of the Ballad of Davy Crockett playing with the words Remember the Alamo ending the song and the story of the legend of Tennessee.
As a kid, I always watched the Davy Crockett movies for many reasons—Walt Disney made them, my Dad loved them, and I enjoyed them. Now watching Davy Crockett at the Alamo, I get that childhood nostalgia of the pure joy at watching this great character fight against the bad guys, and though he dies, I know his legend lives on.
This movie version of Davy Crockett is very much a product of a bygone era. Looking at the movie critically, there are many flaws that just don’t hold up to this day and age. The seemingly random chance that Davy and Georgie happen to make it to the Alamo, is unbelievable. It seems more akin to a Mr. Magoo episode then a movie about the great David Crockett.
Georgie Russell is another character that while played wonderfully by Buddy Ebsen, he’s not a realistic character. How anyone could so blindly follow a friend and leave everything behind is questionable at best, and just downright crazy.
The production of the film has all the qualities of the 1950’s. The chase scenes were prolonged unnecessarily, like the chase of Crockett into the Alamo. The five thousand strong army of Mexico’s General Santa Anna doesn’t seem bigger than a few hundred, and they don’t look like they are from Mexico.
As I said before this is a film from a very different time, and as a viewer, you must be aware that this was never meant to be an accurate telling of the true tale of Davy Crockett at the Alamo. As Walt Disney said in his introduction to the film, this was a tribute to a folk hero, certainly not a biography of the congressman from Tennessee.
There are cultural stereotypes, like how Busted Luck is presented, leaps in believability, and questionable use of historical records that alter the true tale of what the defenders of the Alamo experienced. Davy Crockett at the Alamo is a historical record not of the battle at the Alamo in 1836, but of the birth of pop culture. These movies starring Fess Parker, are the formula that every studio hopes to emulate today. The Davy Crockett series inspired not only a hit television show, but also a repackaging of the episodes into a theatrical release, a number one song, and just about every boy in America in 1955 was wearing a coonskin cap.
Blockbusters are not ruining movies today because Davy Crockett at the Alamo proves that filmgoers will always go bananas for stories they love. It’s okay to enjoy Davy Crockett at the Alamo, but you mustn’t take it for a true record of the history that was the Alamo, or David Crockett.