A young man (Cruise) leaves Ireland with his landlord's daughter (Kidman) after some trouble with her father, and they dream of owning land at the big giveaway in Oklahoma ca. 1893. When ... See full summary »
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
There is no explanation of why Sheriff Ramsey is fine in one scene and wearing a bandage on his forehead in the next, immediately following. (there was a deleted or unfilmed scene where Zeb knocked Ramsey out when the Sheriff tried to stop him from going after the train robbers). See more »
[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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In the early 1960s Hollywood found itself under attack by television so had to wheel out some big guns . THE LONGEST DAY and HOW THE WEST WAS WON were a couple of these howitzers . Film,s that lasted several hours full of episodic structure with big names playing the characters . Watching these type of movies years later you can see the thinking behind them but do seem overblown with hindsight and you can also see why film makers wanted to make more intense movies via New Hollywood in the 1970s
That said HTWWW is by no means a bad movie . If there's a problem with it it's the narrative problem of trying to squeeze 100 years of history in to three hours of cinema and to a large degree the film succeeds to a large extent . It also deserves some credit for using Debbie Reynolds and George Peppard - neither of whom were the biggest names in the movie - to play the main linking characters
And yet the problem of the narrative is impossible to overcome entirely successfully . The story remains episodic and has every cliché under the sun . Men are men and women are thankful . White men tend to be extremely good or extremely bad and the indigenous population are noble savages who become mere savages when white man speak with forked tongue . There's also the annoying production value of people standing in front of back projection which jars with the numerous establishing shots taken on location. It's also a conservative film with God frequently getting a name check
But for the most part it's an entertaining Western even for those of us who don't like the genre . Perhaps the reason it does work is because it's so traditional where the world is portrayed in black and white , a world that has never existed in the first place
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