How the West Was Won (1962)

How the West Was Won
Directed by John Ford, Henry Hathaway and George Marshall
Written by James R. Webb
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Cinerama Productions Co.
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental


Zebulon ‘Zeb’ Rawlings: I said, ‘Now, why’d you get in such a fix? Do you like fightin’ grizzlies?’ He said, ‘Well, not ‘specially. I just wanted to go somewhere and the bear was there first.’ I guess I just wanna go somewhere, too.

The big Cinerama moments are the parts I remember from my childhood.  They are still the best thing about this movie, even on flat screen.

The film covers the conquest of the West starting from the first settlers moving to the Mid-West along the Erie Canal.  This part of the film focuses on the Prescott family and their daughters Eve (Carroll Baker) and Lilith (Debbie Reynolds).  Eve eventually woos and wins mountain man Zeb Rawlings (James Stewart).  Lilith is eager for the finer things in life and, after a disaster that kills her father and mother, becomes a music hall singer. She ends up marrying gambler Cleve Van Allen (Gregory Peck).

We then move on to the Civil War.  By this time Zeb Jr. (George Peppard) is a young man. He goes off to fight for the Union.  After the war is over, he works for the railroad under construction.  He finds the work distasteful and eventually becomes a lawman.  With too many stars to count in smaller roles including Henry Fonda, John Wayne, Walter Brennan, Thelma Ritter, etc. etc. etc.  The film is narrated by Spencer Tracy.  Henry Hathaway directed the bulk of the film with John Ford taking over for the Civil War Segment and George Marshall for “The Railroad”.

I believe I saw this at the Cinerama Dome in LA on its original release (thanks Mom!).  The only part that sticks vividly in my memory is the sequence in the river rapids.  I had forgotten that the film also contains a boffo gunfight and derailment as the climax.  There’s some really stunning scenery throughout.  I found the story a bit too contrived for my liking.  There’s certainly nothing to complain about in the acting department.  Recommended to those curious about the outer limits of widescreen cinematography.

Clip – closing sequence

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