My Two Cents
Wednesday, 28 May 2014 15:09

Tell MGM it's time – NOW – to save John Wayne's The Alamo before it's lost forever

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So... you might recall that last week I had dinner with film restoration expert (and former Bits contributor) Robert A. Harris and some other friends. (You can find a complete archive of his work on the original Digital Bits website here.) Robert, as it happens, is in town working on another fine classic film restoration project which will be announced in due course. But during our conversation last week, Robert alerted us to the fact that another beloved classic film is not faring nearly so well. That film, as you might already suspect, is The Alamo (1960), directed by and starring the legendary John Wayne. [Read on here…]

Robert posted a column here at The Bits back in 2009 (see this link), detailing exactly what would be required to restore this film to its proper glory. At that time, the film was already in dire condition. But it was hoped that MGM could be convinced to mount a restoration effort. Unfortunately, MGM decided that they were unwilling to spend the money required. A second option was presented to MGM – let outside corporations or the public fund the restoration effort. This was considered for a time, until MGM apparently decided that letting outsiders fund the restoration (because they were unwilling to) might be seen a negative light. So nothing happened.

In the years since, Robert has repeatedly made attempts to get MGM to allocate the resources needed to restore this film, knowing all the while that the film’s archival elements were continuing to deteriorate. Then, last week at dinner, Robert informed us that not only had another recent effort to get MGM to reconsider failed, there will very likely never be another one. Robert has just conducted a test of the elements, and discovered that they’re nearly gone. Here’s an edited compilation of his latest statements over at The Home Theater Forum on the matter:

“There is no restoration effort at this time. Which means that there may never be a restoration effort.

Several people have raised the concept of going to outside sources for funding. MGM has no interest in the concept, even if the film is lost.

It appears that MGM has chosen to allow the film to die, as no immediate action will be taken, with elements just one stage above that of industrial waste. A pity, but one of many in the library.

Not the way that fairy tales should end.


To give you a sense of the seriousness of this, here’s how the 70mm film elements looked back in 2009. They’re in far worse shape today...

The Alamo - 70mm print test from 2009

Robert’s told me personally that if a last-ditch restoration were started today, the best that could be achieved would be to return the film to perhaps 60% of its former glory. But 60%, while disappointing, is certainly better than nothing.

It is deeply shameful that MGM thinks so little of its film library that they’re willing a beloved John Wayne classic film be lost forever, even if saving it means suffering a little embarrassment or spending a modest sum of money. Especially in this, the studio’s 90th anniversary year.

We’re going to try get an official statement from MGM on this matter, but regardless of anything the studio says officially, Robert has seen the elements firsthand. His expert opinion (and there are no better experts in the business on the topic of proper film restoration) is that the film is very nearly gone. There is no more time for delay, foot-dragging, or excuses.

MGM needs to step up – NOW – and give The Alamo the restoration it desperately needs. Or make excuses and forever be known as the studio that disgracefully let the film be lost.

Do you agree? Then we suggest that you all politely but firmly tell MGM that on Twitter: @MGM_Studios.

MGM Studios can be found here on Facebook as well.

Spread the word far and wide. Get people to politely contact MGM on this in any way they can. And act fast. The film is out of time.

Stay tuned…

- Bill Hunt

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