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“Viva Max!” in San Antonio

March 11, 2019

Looking back 50 years, the filming of “Viva Max!” in downtown San Antonio was the big event of 1969.  The comedic film tells the story of an eccentric Mexican general who, in an attempt to impress his girlfriend, marches his army north to retake the Alamo.  The Commonwealth United Entertainment movie was based on a novel by Jim Lehrer, journalist and former resident of San Antonio. The production crew arrived in the city in early March, establishing their headquarters in El Tropicano Hotel.  From there they traveled first to a rural area near Laredo and then to Von Ormy before shooting the main scenes in San Antonio.

The movie was controversial from the beginning.  In December 1967, producer Mark Carliner announced that the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, custodians of the Alamo, refused to allow filming on the Alamo grounds.   The DRT officers felt that the comedy was a desecration of the heroes of the Alamo.  Consequently, the company constructed a replica of the Alamo interior and courtyard at Cinecitta Studios in Rome.  The City of San Antonio allowed filming on city property outside the Alamo.  After completion, Mexican officials barred the movie in Mexico.

Nevertheless, the San Antonio establishment considered the film a success for the city.   It gave the city national publicity and added about a million dollars to the local economy.  At the release of the movie in December of 1969, an appreciative city organized a multi-event world premiere.

These are a few of the images related to the movie in our San Antonio Express-News and San Antonio Light photograph collections


Publicity photo with Peter Ustinov (in the lead role of General Maximilian Rodrigues De Santos) and Pamela Tiffin (as Alamo gift shop clerk Paula Whitland), April 1969. (San Antonio Express-News Collection MS 360: E-0018-068-B-3-1)















Singer Rosita Fernandez is among the local celebrities welcoming Peter Ustinov to the city at a gala reception at the airport, March 5, 1969. (San Antonio Express-News Collection MS 360: E-0018-042-41)

Local men who responded to the invitation for “military-type” males to portray soldiers at a casting session in HemisFair Plaza, March 4, 1969. (San Antonio Express-News Collection MS 360: E-0018-040-14)

Director Jerry Paris, wearing a recently acquired Texas hat, coaches those chosen for non-speaking parts. (San Antonio Express-News Collection MS 360: E-0018-045-40)

Crew constructs movie prop gates on city property after the DRT locked and covered the actual gates (in background). (San Antonio Express-News Collection MS 360: E-0018-059-12)

Harry Morgan (as Police Chief George Sylvester), seated at desk on the left, in one of the minor scenes filmed in various locations in the city, March 16, 1969. (San Antonio Light Collection MS 359: L-6412-H-30)

General Max and his troops arrive in Alamo Plaza shortly before seizing control of the Alamo, April 1, 1969. (San Antonio Express-News Collection MS 360: E-0018-059-01)

A right-wing militia confronts General Max shortly after he leaves the Alamo. (San Antonio Light Collection MS 359: L-6412-K-10)

A helicopter with a U.S. Army general arrives at the climax of the movie. (San Antonio Express-News Collection MS 360: E-0018-059-01)

Keenan Wynn (as U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Barney La Comber) and Kenneth Mars (as Dr. Sam Gilleson, leader of the private militia). (San Antonio Express-News Collection MS 360: E-0018-067-49)

Mark Carliner, the producer, and Jonathan Winters (as Billy Joe Hallson, brigadier general of the Texas National Guard). (San Antonio Express-News Collection MS 360: E-0018-067-10)

John Astin (as Valdez, first sergeant in Gen. Max’s brigade). (San Antonio Express-News Collection MS 360: E-0018-068-C-16)

Camera crew at work during the climactic scene, then considered the largest one to be filmed in the downtown area of an American City. (San Antonio Light Collection MS 359: L-6412-I-19)

City sponsored event launching the world premiere activities with members of the film cast, Governor Preston Smith, and Mayor Walter McAllister as special guests, December 18, 1969. (San Antonio Light Collection MS 359: L-6412-L-06)






3 Comments leave one →
  1. Melvin Quinney permalink
    April 3, 2019 3:43 pm

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading the information on Viva Max! I was serving in the U.S. Navy aboard ship in the western Pacific when the movie was released. Although I wasn’t home in San Antonio during the filming, it was such a wonderful experience to watch such a gloriously insane movie and see my hometown from halfway around the world. Thank you for this wonderful post. On a side note, I have always felt somewhat miffed at the signs that say no photographs to be taken inside the Alamo, in reverence of The Cradle of Texas Liberty. What miffs me is the reading between the lines – however, in our souvenir shop, you can buy the pictures we took. I do have high respect for the defenders of the Alamo, but I sure got a lot more feeling of true history by visiting John Wayne’s Alamo set near Brackettville.

  2. Luis R Garza Jr permalink
    April 13, 2019 12:30 pm

    My favorite quote; He could not lead his troops to a whore house with a fist full of $20’s. Favorite scenes; when crossing the border they had to pay one person at a time. Or how about Winters jumping on the matresses.

  3. Ruben Cardosa permalink
    March 30, 2022 11:56 am

    I remember my dad coming home from work getting us all together and taking us to Hwy 90 and Hwy 35. We saw a plethora of horses with military dressed men strutting along the highway. It was a glorious sight. I was six years old and didn’t know the purpose of them riding their horses on the interstate. Have to see the movie and hope it’s a gem.

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