How the West Was Won (1962)

Approved  |   |  Western  |  20 February 1963 (USA)
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Reviews: 140 user | 34 critic

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?


Spencer Tracy provides the narration. Bing Crosby was originally slated to provide this. See more »


The Prescotts were shown traveling west on the Erie Canal, then floating on a raft through Ohio (where Eve Prescott settled). The Erie Canal led to Buffalo, then via the Great Lakes, bypassing Ohio. 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 Fast Forward: Episode #3.6 (1987) See more »


How the West Was Won
Music by Alfred Newman
Lyrics by Ken Darby
Performed by Ken Darby (uncredited)
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

HTWWW at the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles
19 September 2003 | by (Orange County, Calif.) – See all my reviews

It was a good payoff; the print was as perfect as could be expected and the Pacific Cinerama theater is in top form. Seating was fine (it's reserved, so you know ahead where you'll be. Because you're looking at three separate 35mm projections, the sum total of the three result in a very large, clear and bright picture, just as good as a 70mm film, and perhaps better in some respects. The prints were vivid and sharp.

At the Dome, a theater executive came out to discuss the film and the theater history with the audience just prior to the start of the picture; he spoke for 10-15 minutes discussing the pros and cons of the process, why it wasn't practical to continue making films this way etc. One of the plus aspects is that with the small lenses they used, the focus was fixed and any object from 2 ft to infinity was always in focus (therefore, all the scenery was sharp except for certain single-camera and process shots). One of the downside aspects is that extreme closeups are not possible in Cinerama, and he said that the directors hated that. Then he tells inside trivia about the film, how it includes about a minute of footage from two other films (one was The Alamo) because the scenes fit perfectly in the storyline. He also mentioned that back in the 1960's it took 5 people to run the show: three projectors, the 35mm sound projector and one master projectionist - total of 5. The gentleman said that today, with all the modern technological improvements, they were now able to produce the identical result -- with just 5 projectionists! In other words, nothing had changed. Another reason the process could not survive. Got a big laugh. He then introduced each projectionist to the audience.

Anyway, the whole thing came off without a hitch and I had forgotten much of the film's vivid details and incredible scenery, so it was very much like seeing it for the first time. I had not seen it in Cinerama ever, and when I did see a blended 35mm print in a local Edwards theater back in '64, it was somewhat of a disappointment. The magnetic 6-track sound was on still another 35mm film strip, so 4 separate strips are actually required to comprise the presentation). The sound was fine - clear and sharp - with lots of separation in the six channels, but it was not as boomy as the sound we hear in today's pics. For anyone interested in what it might have been like to see a state-of-the-art presentation in the early 1960's, this presents a magnificent opportunity, and the film is a trip. --- DFR

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