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
The opening pan across the Rockies is actually an out-take from This Is Cinerama (1952). The same holds true for the closing aerial sweep. See more »
The Sacramento River river boat is shown passing through mountainous terrain, while the Sacramento River estuary is all relentless flatland. 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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One of the last great epic movies to come out of MGM that was a roaring success, How the West Was Won still has enough quality about it to warrant high praise. The story that drives the film on was suggested by the series of the same name that featured in "Life" magazine 1959. Narrative is formed around one family, the Prescott's, who set out on a journey West in 1839. They and their offspring fill out five segments of film that are directed by three different men, "The Rivers", "The Plains" & "The Outlaws" is under the guidance of Henry Hathaway, and "The Civil War" by John Ford and "The Railroad" by George Marshall.
Filmed in the unique Cinerama format, which in a nutshell is three cameras filming at once to project a fully formed experience for the human eye, the production has an all star cast and four supreme cinematographers aiding the story. To name all the cast would take forever, but in the main all of the major parts were filled by stars who had already headlined a movie previously. The cinematographers are naturally key since such a sprawling story inevitably has sprawling vistas, they come up trumps with some truly special work: William H. Daniels, Milton Krasner, Charles Lang Jr. & Joseph LaShelle, four great names who help to make the film a poetic beauty.
As a whole it's undeniably far from flawless, complaints such as it running out of steam towards the end (the irony of it since a steam train features prominently), and the plot contrivances, are fair enough. However, when the film is good, it's real good: raft in the rapids, Cheyene attack, buffalo stampede and train robbery, each of them are good enough to be a highlight in separate movies. Even the songs are pleasant, particularly when they revolve around the effervescent Debbie Reynolds, while home format transfers are now finally up to a standard worthy of investment, time and cash wise.
Hard to dislike for a Western fan, and carrying enough about it to lure in the casual viewer, How the West Was Won really is a case of they don't make them like they used to. 8/10
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