by Tony Dayoub
There is no way to describe The Last Command except as earnest in its inaccuracy. Still, this 1955 western, unavailable on DVD, is likely the most accurate and best depiction of the Battle of the Alamo as seen through the eyes of one of its heroes, Jim Bowie. In fact, the film begins with the song "Jim Bowie," lyrics by Sydney Clare ("On the Good Ship Lollipop") and music composed by the great Max Steiner. The Austrian Steiner was Warner Brothers go-to composer in the early days, responsible for the famous themes for Gone With the Wind (1939) and Casablanca (1942) among others (by the time he composed the score for this Republic film he was working freelance). As sung by Gordon MacRae—the very same year he hit his career peak in the movie Oklahoma!—"Jim Bowie" immediately sets the reverential tone for the picture.
Good thing it's the stolid Sterling Hayden playing Bowie. Hayden already had The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and Johnny Guitar (1954) under his belt by the time The Last Command rolled around. His laconic dynamism keeps the character of Bowie both grounded and exciting, just a hair away from decking someone if he pushes Bowie the wrong way. And even if that quality is not easily discernible to his Texian compadres, Hayden's 6'5" frame lets you easily buy into why so many of the salty men in this story respect and choose to follow him despite his softspoken nature. That and his prowess with the eponymous Bowie knife he became known for.
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