Friday, December 24, 2021

Joan Didion on "The Alamo"

Joan Didion died yesterday, age 87. For a time in the '50s and '60s she wrote for National Review and they have made some of those writings available as pdfs. From her review of John Wayne's The Alamo (1960):
.... About forty-five minutes into The Alamo, a man appears on that immense Todd-AO horizon. He smiles. He moves his shoulders a little. He says "Les-go" or something like it; who cares what he says? He goes riding through the tall grass down to San Antonio, right off the top of the screen, and you are, if you are like me, lost, lost forever. It is John Wayne. It might be Clark Gable. appearing in a white linen suit amid the flaming ruin of Atlanta to carry Scarlett home to Tara; it might be the purr of an American plane—always distinguishable from Axis planes, which had engines that whined—coming in overhead just as the rations run out in a World War II movie. From then on, the ball game's over. At least it was for me. I wept as Wayne told his Mexican inamorata How A Man's Gotta Live. I wept as he explained why Republic Is A Beautiful Word. I wept throughout the siege of the mission; there was no use in my companion's trying to amuse me by pointing out that it had just come home to Richard Widmark, although the problem had been under discussion on screen for some three hours, that "WE NEED MORE MEN!"

I was inconsolable by the time the battle was done, and Wayne lay on the cold cold ground, bleeding as no one has bled since Janet Leigh in Psycho. The last white woman walked out of the Alamo then. She had soot on her face, and she was carrying her child, and she held her head high as she walked past Santa Anna into the sunset. So conspicuous was my sniffling by then that you could scarcely hear the snickers from my neighbors, a couple of young men from Esquire, both of whom resembled Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.

They don't make 'em like Duke on the New Frontiers.
Joan Didion, “Wayne at the Alamo” — December 31, 1960 (pdf)

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