How the West Was Won (1962) Poster

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More quantity than quality, but a truly all-star cast
Brian W. Fairbanks10 April 1999
Watching a letterboxed version of "How the West Was Won," I noticed the dividing lines on the screen, and it was clear that much of the picture was still missing even in this format. But neither hindered my enjoyment of this sprawling epic, even if James R. Webb's Oscar winning screenplay left something to be desired. Alfred Newman's music score is terrific, and so is that all-star cast. Unlike those disaster flicks of the 70s like "The Poseidon Adventure" and "The Towering Inferno" that claimed to be stuffed with stars but actually boasted "names" (usually familiar performers, primarily from TV, who rarely headlined a first class feature), "How the West Was Won" has the genuine article. John Wayne, James Stewart, Gregory Peck, Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, George Peppard, Robert Preston, Carroll Baker, and Debbie Reynolds may mean little at the ticket windows of the 90s (and many of them are dead, anyway), but all were above the title stars who carried their own films at the box-office in the early 60s.

Three directors helmed this project but I'd be hard pressed to distinguish whether John Ford, George Marshall or Henry Hathaway were behind the camera during any particular episode if the opening credits didn't identify each segment and its director. I suppose "How the West Was Won" is more quantity than quality, but it's entertaining overall.
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9/10
Awesome - American history on a grand scale
trpdean16 September 2005
As a seven year old boy who adored history, I was brought by my mother to see this in Cinemascope on a huge screen. Anyone who has seen this can just imagine the impact.

There has always been a healthy dispute about what historical developments most influenced the outlook and behavior of Americans. Among the candidates are: i) the development of an entirely new world on distant shores - a world where the rules were there to be made as the Pilgrims/Puritans/Quakers and others determined, ii) the colonists' growing self-identity as Americans, the evolution of that separate identity, and these peoples' coordination and cooperation from 1607 to the Albany Union conference in 1759, the Stamp Act Congress in 1763 and the Second Continental Congress' decision to declare independence in 1776, iii) the workings of a multi-racial society due to the presence of aboriginal people and the importation of slaves, iv) the role of the frontier and settlement of a continually receding West, v) the enormity of immigration and their inter-action with the native-born from about the 1840s to the present, vi) the sheer size and diverse conditions of topography and climate, vii) the evolution of democracy over four centuries on a large scale, viii) the experience of modernization over the past century on a scale unknown to, and before, the rest of the world.

This movie in effect tells the fourth story - and tells it in a thrilling, colorful way -- from the 1840s when the frontier was still the Ohio Valley to about 1885 - not so long a time. (Contrast this with the 169 year colonial period).

The movie is stunning - beautifully cast - music you'll always remember - and many powerful and moving scenes. So many scenes live forever in my mind

  • the return of the George Peppard character from the Civil War to his family's farmstead in Ohio,


-- the astonishing speech by the Richard Widmark character after the buffalo stampede has killed so many,

-- the wonderfully written emotional scenes whenever Debbie Reynolds was dealing with either Robert Preston's clumsy attempt at courtship ("why with hips like yours, having children would be as easy as rolling off a log") or her own love for the roguish Gregory Peck,

-- the George Peppard family (with the wonderful Carolyn Jones and Debbie Reynolds) singing Greensleaves as the movie nears its end,

-- and the astonishing scene of the West transformed into cloverleaf highways and overpasses after we've been watching a deserted West for several hours.

The pride in those who won the West is so evident throughout the movie - yet it's shown along with losses (the deep sadness of Henry Fonda's mountaineer at the continuing encroachment of civilization, the breach of the boundary set in an Indian treaty due to the railroad's need to set a straight course - and the resulting catastrophe).

Not too many years would pass before movie makers would be telling audiences that the settlement of the West was a triumph of vicious villains, charlatans, cynics and fast-buck artists in movies like McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Soldier Blue, Little Big Man, The Wild Bunch.

But I'm deeply grateful that I was old enough to see how the West was won in a movie like this.
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9/10
A whole constellation of magnificent spectacle!
Nazi_Fighter_David21 October 2000
Ford's most distinctive work has dealt with the white American's conquest of the wilderness... He has made films about most of the significant episodes in American history—early colonization of the West, the Civil War, the extermination of the Indians—and in so doing he has recounted the American saga in human terms and made it come alive...

Ford directed one of the episodes of "How the West Was Won," the Civil War... His brief but redeeming contribution effectively recounted the bloody Battle of Shiloh and its aftermath...

Hathaway's strong points were atmosphere, character and authentic locations... He directed, in the film, the episodes of 'The Rivers,' 'The Plains,' and 'The Outlaws.'

George Marshal—the most prolific and most versatile of all major Hollywood filmmakers—directed the episode of 'The Railroad.'

As seen through the eyes of four generations of a pioneer family of New England farmers as they made their way west in the l840s, the scope of "How the West Was Won" is enormous, with essays on the physiology of the West (pioneers, settlers, Indians, outlaws, and adventurers).

The film describes the hard life and times of the Prescott's family across the continent and their fortune to the western shore after years of hardship, loss, love, war, danger and romance...

Stewart appears in the first half hour as a trapper named Linus Rawlings, who marries the daughter (Carroll Baker) of a family migrating West…

The story touched all the bases: runaway wagon trains; Indians stampeding Buffalos; confused and erratic river rapids; the grandeur of Monument Valley, Utah; the rocky mountains; the Black Hills of South Dakota; the clamor of gold in St.Louis; the Cheyenne attack; the Pony Express; the overland telegraph; the coming of the steel roadway of the iron horse; the bloody battle between cattlemen and homesteaders; and some thrilling hand-to-hand fighting…

The result is a stupendous epic Western with 8 Academy Award Nominations including Best Picture and three Academy Awards including Best Original Story and Screenplay; Best Soundand Best Film Editing...

Narrated by Spencer Tracy, "How the West Was Won" enlists the services of such top stars as: Carroll Baker, the strong-minded woman; Gregory Peck, the luckiest gambler; Debbie Reynolds, the perplexing talented singer and dancer; Henry Fonda, the buffalo hunter with gray flowing hair and mustaches; George Peppard, the man with a star; Robert Preston, the decent character with moral flaws; Thelma Ritter, the character woman; Karl Malden, the patriarch; Agnes Moorehead, the unfortunate wife and mother; John Wayne, the major architect of modern warfare; Richard Widmark, the 'king' of the railroad; Russ Tamblyn the Confederate deserter; Andy Levine, the Corporal Ohio volunteer; Lee J. Cobb, the lawman; Carolyn Jones, the worried wife; Eli Wallach, the dangerous outlaw; Rodolfo Acosta, the train robber; Raymond Massey, the great Abraham Lincoln; Walter Brennan and Lee Van Cleef, the thieves to fear…

Alfred Newman and Ken Darby's majestic music takes the pioneers through every conceivable encounter in the West, achieving with conviction a whole constellation of magnificent spectacle...
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9/10
HTWWW at the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles
mrow19 September 2003
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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8/10
Bound for the promised land, indeed.
Spikeopath15 April 2011
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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8/10
Awesome epic Western with giant cast , gorgeous photography and wonderful scenarios
ma-cortes3 April 2014
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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9/10
"I Am Bound For The Promised Land."
bkoganbing21 November 2006
I still remember seeing How the West Was Won in Cinerama when it made it into general release back in 1962. A motion picture theater equipped for Cinerama is the only way this one should be seen. The formatted VHS copy I watched tonight can't come close to doing it justice.

James R. Webb's original screenplay for the screen won an Oscar in 1962 and it involves an episodic account of the Presscott family and their contribution to settling the American west in the 19th century. We first meet the Presscotts, Karl Malden and Agnes Moorehead going west on the Erie Canal and later by flatboat on the Ohio River. They have two daughters, dreamy romantic Carroll Baker and feisty Debbie Reynolds. The girls meet and marry mountain man James Stewart and gambler Gregory Peck eventually and their adventures and those of their children are what make up the plot of How the West Was Won.

Three of Hollywood's top directors did parts of this film although the lion's share by all accounts was done by Henry Hathaway. John Ford did the Civil War sequence and George Marshall the sequence about the railroad.

The Civil War piece featured John Wayne and Harry Morgan in a moment of reflection at the battlefield of Shiloh. Morgan did a first rate job as Grant in his brief cameo and Wayne was playing Sherman for the second time in his career. He'd previously played Sherman in an unbilled cameo on his friend Ward Bond's Wagon Train series. I'm surprised Wayne never did Sherman in a biographical film, he would have been good casting.

If any of the stars could be said to be THE star of the film it would have to be Debbie Reynolds. She's in the film almost through out and in the last sequence where as a widow she goes to live with her nephew George Peppard and his family she's made up as a gray haired old woman and does very well with the aging. Debbie also gets to do a couple of musical numbers, A Home in the Meadow and Raise A Ruckus both blend in well in the story. Debbie's performance in How the West Was Won must have been the reason she was cast in The Unsinkable Molly Brown.

Cinerama was rarely as effectively employed as in How the West Was Won. I well remember feeling like you were right on the flatboat that the Presscott family was on as they got caught in the Ohio River rapids. The Indian attack and the buffalo stampede were also well done. But the climax involving that running gun battle between peace officers George Peppard and Lee J. Cobb with outlaw Eli Wallach and his gang on a moving train even on a formatted VHS is beyond thrilling.

There is a sequence that was removed and it had to do with Peppard going to live with buffalo hunter Henry Fonda and marrying Hope Lange who was Fonda's daughter. She dies and Peppard leaves the mountains and then marries Carolyn Jones. Lange's part was completely left on the cutting room floor. Hopefully there will be a restored version of How the West Was Won, we'll see Hope Lange and more of Henry Fonda.

And it should be restored. All those Hollywood legends in one exciting film. They really don't make them like this any more.
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8/10
A star-studded Western epic
sme_no_densetsu20 June 2010
"How the West Was Won" is one of only two dramatic feature films made using Cinerama's three-strip process. Watching the film on home video represents a compromise but Warner's latest edition offers as good a presentation as you're likely to see outside of a Cinerama theatre.

The film, which was based on a series of 'Life' magazine articles, traces the fortunes of the Prescott family as they take part in the westward expansion in 19th century America. The story unfolds over several decades and touches on the Gold Rush, the Civil War and other periods in American history. James R. Webb's screenplay, while more entertaining than historically exhaustive, won him an Oscar.

The cast is about as star-studded a bunch as you're likely to see anywhere. Where else can you see Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda & John Wayne all in same film? Not to mention Karl Malden, Gregory Peck, Eli Wallach, Richard Widmark, Walter Brennan and others too numerous to mention. Needless to say, the acting is in good hands.

Technically, the film looks quite nice. The Oscar-nominated cinematography is breath-taking and Alfred Newman's score is top-notch. However, the filming process made for an overabundance of long shots and there are a few instances of rear projection that frankly look bad next to the rest of the picture. Also, while not a fault per se, there are geometric distortions inherent in displaying the curved picture on a flat screen.

Yet, despite its minor imperfections, "How the West Was Won" is an attractive and engaging epic Western. As a history lesson, it's somewhat superficial but the combination of fine acting and stunning visuals make it well worth your time. Just be sure to pick up the Special Edition or Blu-ray release.
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9/10
I never really thought the West was that interesting, but How The West Was Won won over my attention.
daryl42-119 May 2010
Warning: Spoilers
9.2

I was never a big fan of the West. I always figured it was some sort of ancestral thing. I mean, seriously, how interesting can Westerns be? Think of some of the key elements of the Western setting: desolate deserts; near poor living environments, unless you were rich; railroads and trains. That doesn't sound very interesting, does it? However, the West usually offers very grim and destructive characters, whose lives and actions are very captivating for audiences. The West itself is stark as an environment. The West is infamous.

How The West Was Won is a 1962 epic film about the Westward expansion that occurred in the United States in the 19th Century. It follows the Prescott family, from their humble roots in the Erie Canal, all the way to their eventual settlement in the West. The film covers many different aspects of the West. It includes historical events such as the Gold Rush in California, the Civil War, and the laying of the railroads in that part of the land. It also includes trademark icons of Western life, such as struggle with Native Americans, travelling in wagons and outlawed gangs. It is very much the quintessential experience of the West in film format.

How The West Was Won uses an interesting technique for filming called Cinerama. It is basically style of shooting a film using three cameras at the same time. It creates a very wide aspect ratio, where your peripheral vision is intended to be engulfed by on-screen content. It is sort of like a "surround vision." I unfortunately can not tell you what it is like to see the film in its intended manner. There are only supposed to be a handful of theaters that are capable of presenting it this way, and I was only able to see the Blu-Ray version of the film. On this version, you can watch it with a wrap-around effect, or the regular 2.89:1 letterbox version.

What results is a very fascinating experience. I, personally, am a huge fan of wide aspect ratio shots. Rarely do films employ such a technique. I was very, very impressed and excited by what I found in How The West Was Won. There are many shots that show an entire landscape, and most of the time there is a character or object in the center, so as to keep the focus on it. It is interesting that in real life, our vision is not as wide, but giving it such a look can paint a very pretty picture. Along with the breathtaking landscape shots, there are many shots where you see a group of people conversing in the middle, but you never lose sight of the environment around them. Giving the fact that it was originally presented with the wrap-around screen, this must have contributed greatly to ambiance. How The West Was Won is a very well shot film.

Unfortunately, it does not use these techniques all of the time. There are many scenes in the film that solely rely on the use of dialogue and story. Not only is there very little to see, but the Cinerama technology is pretty much wasted here. These scenes are usually near the middle and towards the very end of the movie. Granted, maybe there wasn't enough open air around them, but I still think that more could have been done with the three cameras in these scenes.

How The West Was Won is a very good film. Going into this, I was thinking, "oh great, another Western film, and this one is very long, this is not going to be that enjoyable." I was wrong. It is a very entertaining film. Although it is really not that long at all, it definitely feels very long. I guess that this is a compliment, so as to say that they achieved the "epic" feel that they were going for. However, by the end of it, I was feeling a little tired. But I won't count that against the film, especially since it does offer an intermission. The use of the Cinerama technology, even though it is wasted at times, is very impressive. I wish that more films used this technology. One scene that I loved, was the outro, or ending sequence. Spending what seemed like 50 years in the West, seeing the developments of people out there, only to finish it off with a modern day fly-by of San Francisco was amazing. Very good way to finish off this film and send audiences off into the world again. How The West Was Won definitely won over my attention.
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9/10
A Wow Of a Blue Ray!!
jpdoherty26 August 2009
Three cheers are much in order for Warner Home Video with their release of this superb issue on Blue Ray disc of MGM's 1962 blockbuster epic HOW THE WEST WAS WON! Firstly the nine star rating adjudged the disc is NOT for the movie - which I think is generally agreed to be something of a much flawed western extravaganza - but for the quite awesome two disc presentation this time around on Blue Ray.

Virtually gone are the once irritating panel lines that were left by the filming with three cameras. Now we have the definitive version of the movie that is nothing short of stunning! With extremely well defined sharp as a button imagery, pluperfect colour resolution and outstanding audio sound (Alfred Newman's brilliant score comes across with dynamic clarity!) the entire visual experience is certainly something to behold!

The first disc presents the film in a terrific 2.35 widescreen version with some excellent extras that includes a documentary giving us the history of Cinerama and how the public responded to its introduction in the early fifties. There are also some great clips from the first Cinerama picture "This Is Cinerama" (1953) presented by explorer and Cinerama pioneer Lowell Thomas.

But it is disc two that really takes the biscuit! Here we get a "smile box" version of the complete HOW THE WEST WAS WON. This is the "wrap around" totally curved format of the film which simulates the cinema Cinerama viewing experience. And by simply moving your seat closer to your TV (the greater your TV screen the greater the effect) you can well imagine watching the movie in your bygone Cinerama theatre. It is all quite astonishing really and makes a great fun demo. to show off to your friends!

Amazingly this unique presentation - with all its technical brilliance - actually makes the movie better than it really is!

GO FETCH!!
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