“A Splendid Piece of Photography”: The Siege and Fall of the Alamo (1914)
A single document (shown above) and a handful of photographs at the DRT Library are thought to provide a crucial record of a lost silent film about the 1836 Battle of the Alamo. No copy of the The Siege and Fall of the Alamo (1914) is known to exist, and earlier generations of historians believed that the film was never made. While this assertion has proven to be false, information is sparse and many questions remain unanswered.
A synopsis of The Siege and Fall of the Alamo, written for copyright registration, survives at the Library of Congress and is reproduced in its entirety in Frank Thompson’s book Alamo Movies. Unfortunately, Thompson writes, the summary “tells us little about what the film might have been like.” In addition, a review and advertisement in the San Antonio Light (not in the Library’s collection) describe the film’s showing at the Royal Theater on June 1-2, 1914. According to the ad, The Siege and Fall of the Alamo was made in San Antonio with a cast of 2,000 actors “at a cost of more than $35,000.00.” At “five great reels” in length, it was the first feature-length film about the Alamo. Praising the film, the Light called it “a splendid piece of photography, clear in every detail, and the acting is perfect. The play seems to please the patrons and is pronounced by historians as a great production.”
The production stills below were previously thought to be from The Immortal Alamo (1911). However, the actor shown to be portraying David Crockett (below) is not Francis Ford, who played the famous Tennessean in The Immortal Alamo. The wooden palisade shown in the photographs above appears to be same one behind “Crockett” in the picture below. Other clues in the palisade photos and production stills support the conclusion that these materials show The Siege and Fall of the Alamo, although a lack of definitive corroborating evidence means that this identification remains less than certain.
References and Further Reading
Books by writer and film historian Frank Thompson include Alamo Movies (1991) and The Alamo: A Cultural History (2001), both available at the DRT Library. Another work by Thompson, Texas Hollywood: Filmmaking in San Antonio Since 1910 (2002), does not discuss The Siege and Fall of the Alamo specifically but provides interesting contextual information. Additionally, the DRT Library has a vertical file on various movies that have been made about the Alamo, and Richard R. Flores’ book Remembering the Alamo: Memory, Modernity, and the Master Symbol (2002) also contains a chapter on the topic.