How the West Was Won (1962)

Approved  |   |  Western  |  20 February 1963 (USA)
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A family saga covering several decades of Westward expansion in the nineteenth century--including the Gold Rush, the Civil War, and the building of the railroads.


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Won 3 Oscars. Another 7 wins & 5 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Brigid Bazlen ...


Sprawling epic which follows the Prescotts, an emigrant family through four generations, from the Erie Canal in the 1830's to their settled home in the West a half a century later. On the way they encounter river pirates, and escape with the help of fur trapper Linus Rawlings, who subsequently marries one of their daughters, Eve. The parents are drowned on a foundering raft, and the other daughter Lilith becomes a riverboat singer and catches the eye of a genteel adventurer Cleve Van Valen. They cross the plains together in a wagon train and make and lose a fortune in California; meanwhile Linus has turned farmer and, comes the Civil War, joins the Union Army and is killed at the Battle of Shiloh. One of his sons Zeb also joins the army and stays after the war as a cavalry officer and is sent to Colorado to help guard the pioneering railroad against the Indians, whose land they are crossing. By this time Lilith is the elderly lady of the family, having survived long enough to see the ... Written by alfiehitchie

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


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Parents Guide:






Release Date:

20 February 1963 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Das war der wilde Westen  »

Box Office


$15,000,000 (estimated)


$12,150,000 (USA)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(35 mm prints)| (Westrex Recording System)


(Metrocolor) (uncredited)

Aspect Ratio:

2.89 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The sequence where the Indians attack the wagon train took 6 weeks to film. See more »


When the wagon train, on its way to California, is attacked by Indians, it is in a mountainous area, yet the Indians are identified as Cheyenne. The Cheyenne tribe was a Great Plains tribe, and would not have been that far west. See more »


[first lines]
Narrator: [as the camera pans over the Rocky Mountains] This land has a name today, and is marked on maps. But, the names and the marks and the maps all had to be won, won from nature and from primitive man.
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Crazy Credits

Opening credits: Except for historical events and characters the events and characters depicted in this photoplay are fictitious and any similarity to actual persons or events is purely coincidental. See more »


Referenced in The Golden Girls: Yes, We Have No Havanas (1988) See more »


When Johnny Comes Marching Home
(1863) (uncredited)
Written by Louis Lambert
Sung by Ken Darby
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Awesome epic Western with giant cast , gorgeous photography and wonderful scenarios
3 April 2014 | by (Santander Spain) – See all my reviews

Turbulent and mighty story about a family saga set against the background of wars and historical deeds ; covering several decades of Westward expansion in the nineteenth century--including the Gold Rush , the Civil War, , Pony Express , Telegraph , confrontation between cattlemen and homesteaders . And of course , the building of the railroads and career between Union Pacific and Central Pacific to arrive in Promontory Point ; among other epic events . As a family of Western settlers from the 1830s to the 1880s , beginning with their voyage on The Eerie Canal and going on to encompass a Civil War battle and other happenings .

The picture gets great action , expansive Western settings , shootouts , love stories , it is quite entertaining and there some some scenes still rate with the best of the West , including marvelous moments along the way . It efficiently describes an attractive panoramic view of the American Western focusing on the tribulations , trials and travels of three generations of a family . It's a big budget film with good actors , technicians, production values and pleasing results . Awesome as well as spectacular scenes such as an exciting white-water rafting sequence , a train robbery , a thundering buffalo stampede and Indian attacks . The Civil War is the shortest part and the weakest including a brief acting by John Wayne as General Sheridan and Harry Morgan as General Ulysses S Grant . Particularly supreme for its all-star cast list with some actors epitomising the spirit of the early West , at least as Hollywood saw it , including a Mountain man as James Stewart , a rogue card player , Gregory Peck , and Debbie Reynolds is notable here as a gorgeous dancer seeking fame and fortune . Not many of the players have a chance to register as a bearded Henry Fonda as a scout , Walter Brennan , Lee Van Cleef , Agnes Moorehead , Ken Curtis , Raymond Massey as Abraham Lincoln , Agnes Moorehead , Thelma Ritter , Mickey Shaughnessy , Russ Tamblyn and an interminable list ,

Impressive cinematography filmed in Cinerama, and photographed in splendorous Metrocolor , though it loses much of its breathtaking visual impact on TV but otherwise holds up pretty well . All four cinematographers were Oscar-winners such as William H. Daniels , Milton R. Krasner , Milton Krasner , Charles Lang Jr and Joseph LaShelle . Rousing musical score by the classical Alfred Newman , including an immortal leitmotif . The motion picture was spectacularly directed by three veteran filmmakers , they were enlisted by producer Bernard Smith to handle the multi-part frontier stories relating exciting exploits of an ordinary family . Of the five segments, Henry Hathaway directed "The Rivers", "The Plains" and "The Outlaws", John Ford directed "The Civil War" and George Marshall did "The Railroad". Some uncredited work was done by Richard Thorpe. The picture won Oscar 63 to Film editing , Sound , Story and Screenplay . Rating : Extraordinary film , essential and indispensable watching . It's a magnificent example of the kind of old-fashioned blockbuster just don't make anymore .

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