John Wayne had been trying to get Herbert J. Yates, head of Republic Pictures, interested in a film about The Alamo. He’d been looking for locations and had James Edward Grant working on a script. Yates strung Wayne along for a while, then turned the project down as too expensive. Once his contract expired, Wayne never worked for Republic again.
As Wayne tells it, “I was sore at Yates, not just because he wouldn’t let me make The Alamo but because he went and filmed the story anyway — a picture called The Last Command. It was a big-budget picture for Republic, but not as big as the film I planned.”
That’s pretty much how The Last Command is remembered today — Republic’s screw-you to John Wayne. (It uses at least some of Grant’s screenplay.) That’s a shame. Because while it certainly doesn’t have much to offer in the way of historical accuracy, it’s got a great cast: Sterling Hayden, Richard Carlson, Ernest Borgnine, Arthur Hunnicutt, J. Carrol Naish and Anna Maria Alberghetti. It was the final picture for Oscar-winning director Frank Lloyd (Mutiny On The Bounty, 1935). Max Steiner provided a good score. And it was the last screenplay by Warren Duff (Angels With Dirty Faces, 1938) before he made the move to TV.
It plays pretty well and doesn’t get gobbled up by its size the way Wayne’s The Alamo (1961) does.
Unfortunately, The Last Command was saddled with some of the worst poster art ever. Did they really think that looks like Sterling Hayden? Notice that since we all know how an Alamo movie’s going to end — with the entire cast dead — the poster makes no mention of the tragic fortress.