Martyrs of the Alamo
Black and white, silent, 1915
Fine Arts Film Company
Directed by Christy Cabanne
Runtime: 71 minutes
Starring: Sam De Grasse (Silent Smith), Allan Sears (David Crockett (as A.D. Sears)), Walter Long (Santa Anna) Alfred Paget (James Bowie), Fred Burns (Captain Dickinson), John Dillon (Colonel Travis), Juanita Hansen (Old Soldier's Daughter/Smith's Lady Love), Ora Carew (Mrs. Dickinson), Tom Wilson (Sam Houston), Augustus Carney (Old Soldier)
Martyrs of the Alamo opens with a number of title cards that provide the historical setting for the drama. They read:
"An historical drama suggested by the crisis in Mexico, 1835 to 1836, and the immortal fall of the Alamo, which ultimately resulted in Texas becoming and independent republic and later the largest state of our union."
"The immediate cause of the Texas Revolution. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, elected president of Mexico in 1833, was shortly declared Dictator by his army, ignoring the constitution of Mexico of 1824, which provided for a republican form of government."
"Liberty-loving Americans who built up the Texas colony were denied their rights by Santa Anna. They demanded that Mexico should return to the constitution of 1824, and that Texas should have a state government."
"Santa Anna crossed the border to crush this dangerous spirit of revolution."
The scene opens to Santa Anna and his army inside the chapel at the Alamo. Life in San Antonio under Santa Anna's rule is depicted as morally bankrupt and unfair to white Texans. Mexicans, both army men and civilians, are shown as drunks who harass and make fun of whites on the street. They are especially lascivious toward white women.
A title card reads, "Under the dictator's rule the honor and life of American womanhood was held in contempt."
The wife of Lieutenant A.M. Dickinson is annoyed by a Mexican petty officer, who grabs and tries to kiss her while his comrades watch and laugh. She rebuffs him, but he follows her to her home where she again protests and slaps him.
Upon learning of this, Lt. Dickinson tracks the man down and shoots him dead on the street in front of his comrades, hoping to make an example of him. Dickinson is jailed by Santa Anna, who then decrees that all Americans must be disarmed and surrender any weapons of war.
Meanwhile, "Silent" Smith, David Crockett, and James Bowie lay plans for revolt and await Santa Anna's next move. Crockett and Bowie manage to evade Mexican authorities by hiding a cache of rifles and powder beneath the floorboards of one of their homes.
Once Santa Anna believes he has disarmed the Americans and quelled any rebellion, he leaves with the bulk of his army. A small garrison is left behind in the charge of General Cos.
Seizing the opportunity, Smith, Crockett, and Bowie lead an uprising against the Mexicans and take over San Antonio. General Cos is allowed to leave with his sword provided he promises never to take up arms against Texas.
Under the new regime, the Mexicans on the street are respectful, removing their hats and showing deference when whites walk past.
Cos eventually returns to Santa Anna, bringing word of the rebellion in San Antonio. Furious, Santa Anna vows to crush Texas, starting with San Antonio and the Alamo. Silent Smith, who is spying on Santa Anna in the underbrush, overhears his plans and returns to the Alamo with the news.
As they prepare for Santa Anna's attack, another group of men arrives to help defend the Alamo. General Travis and his staff have been send by Sam Houston to take command, as Bowie has been stricken with a dangerous illness.
Though initially there is tension between the Travis and Bowie camps, Crockett reminds them that they are all fighting for one Texas. All the fighting men agree and happily shake hands. The men resolve in the name of liberty to never surrender, and they arm the Alamo as their fortress.
On February 22, 1836, Santa Anna and his army arrive outside San Antonio. Santa Anna sends a courier with a message, "If you refuse to surrender the Alamo, every man shall be put to the sword."
Travis replies that if Santa Anna wants the Alamo, "let him take it!"
Meanwhile, many miles away at the Texas Convention, General Sam Houston signs the declaration of Texas' independence from Mexico.
The men at the Alamo manage to rebuff the Mexican army's attacks for many days. On the tenth day, Travis tells his men that death is inevitable, but escape or surrender is still possible. He had hoped reinforcements might come, but there was no sign of help on the way.
Travis draws a line in the sand with his sword, and declares, "Those who wish to die like heroes and patriots, cross this line to me." All the men cross the line, including Bowie, who is barely able to stand due to his illness.
Bowie is put to bed in the infirmary, and Travis sends Silent Smith to make a final plea to Houston for reinforcements. Smith, knowing he may never see any of the people at the Alamo again, says goodbye to his lady love, Bowie, and then Crockett before leaving via a secret underground passageway. Smith narrowly escapes on horseback and rides off to find Houston.
4,000 additional troops arrive to aid Santa Anna's final onslaught on the Alamo. Though the men fight fiercely, the Mexicans are finally able to breach the walls. All the men, including Bowie and the others in the infirmary, fight the Mexicans face-to-face. When the Texans run out of ammunition, they use their guns as clubs.
The women and children try to take refuge, but many are shot and killed. A Mexican soldier grabs a small blonde child by the neck, stabs him with a bayonet, and tosses him like a rag doll. Crockett, Bowie, and other heroes of the Alamo are each shown being overcome by groups of Mexican soldiers.
When the battle is finally over, most of the men of the Alamo have been killed, but the Mexican casualties are very high. Santa Anna shoots the remaining male survivors of the Alamo as traitors. Of the women who remain, Santa Anna keeps Silent Smith's lady love for himself, and sends Mrs. Dickinson, shell shocked and clutching her baby, to tell the other rebels what happened at the Alamo. "Go tell the rebellious ones what happens to traitors," he says as she is sent away on horseback.
Mrs. Dickinson reaches Houston and his men a day's march from the Alamo. Houston decides that it would be prudent to travel to San Jacinto and there await the advance of Santa Anna's forces.
The scene cuts to Santa Anna's camp, where the general is portrayed as an immoral lech. A title card reads, "An inveterate drug fiend, the Dictator of Mexico also famous for his shameful orgies." Santa Anna tries to get Silent Smith's lady to sleep with him, but she slaps him in the face.
Silent Smith, posing as a deaf-mute tracker, infiltrates Santa Anna's camp. To ensure he is not lying about his deafness, Santa Anna orders one of his men to fire a gun inches behind Smith's head. When Smith doesn't flinch, Santa Anna believes he cannot hear and allows him unfettered access to the camp. Smith is able to learn vital information, and he also is reunited with his love.
Smith returns with her to Houston's camp to report that Santa Anna's troops are demoralized and the time is ripe for attack. Houston plans a sneak attack on the camp during their afternoon siesta.
Blissfully unaware, Santa Anna sits in his tent and watches as a group of ladies dance for him. The Mexican soldiers are asleep and generally relaxed when Houston and his men attack, first sneaking up on the perimeter guards and then advancing into full attack, shouting "Remember the Alamo!"
In about twenty minutes, the battle is won by Houston's Texans. While gathering the prisoners, Silent Smith finds Santa Anna cowering under a bush. Houston decides that keeping Santa Anna alive will prove more valuable than killing him. Thus, on May 14, 1826, he and Santa Anna both sign a treaty acknowledging Texas as free and independent.
Plot keywords: The Alamo, war for Texas independence, Santa Anna, David Crockett, James Bowie, Sam Houston, Silent Smith, battle of San Jacinto, historical drama
Scenery: scrubby trees and brush, dusty roads, mission-style walls and sets
Trivia: Also known as "The Birth of Texas." Heavily influenced by Birth of a Nation.
Martyrs of the Alamo is available on DVD.