How the West Was Won (1962)

how the west was won poster 1962 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 10/10

Great looking, good cast

So-so story

Movie Info

Movie Name: How the West Was Won

Studio:  Cinerama Releasing Corporation

Genre(s): Western/War

Release Date(s):  November 1, 1962 (Premiere)/February 20, 1963 (US)

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

how the west was won debbie reynolds carroll baker

This will be a great story of the men we marry and their male children!

The Prescott sisters Lilith (Debbie Reynolds) and Eve (Carroll Baker) travelled with their parents (Karl Malden and Agnes Moorehead) down the Ohio in search of new lands and opportunity.  When tragedy strikes, Eve finds herself staying by the river with her husband Linus Rawlings (James Stewart) while Lilith travels into the West where she meets a listless man named Cleve Van Valen (Gregory Peck) who has dreams of his own.  As the years pass, Eve’s son Zeb Rawlings (George Peppard) finds himself following the rails after the War as the West finds new settlers and facing the lawlessness of the land.

Directed by Henry Hathaway, John Ford, and George Marshall, How the West Was Won is a Western epic drama.  The film won Academy Awards for Best Original Screenplay, Best Sound, and Best Film Editing with nominations for Best Picture, Best Cinematography—Color, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration—Color, Best Costume Design—Color, and Best Score.  The film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1997.

how the west was won railroad

The trains will be a great addition…no problems coming

Epics are often something you have to really gear up for.  You have to devote some time and prepare for (generally) slow development.  How the West Was Won is one of those epics and though long, it isn’t as long as some similar films.

Even with a nomination for its story, the story really feels underwhelming.  The basic concept (as implied by the title) is how American settled the West and this settling is essentially seen through the eyes of two women (which is a bit unusual in a Western from the time) despite having men as the focus.  The story weaves in and out (with multiple directors putting their spin on the movie) but the final leg of the adventure doesn’t feel like enough of a payout as the two divergent paths once more merge.

how the west was one cheyenne war party

It isn’t a Western until you have angry Native Americans attack

The cast is good and expansive and that is typical of an epic of this size.  James Stewart, Gregory Peck, Robert Preston, George Peppard, Henry Fonda, Eli Wallach, and Lee J. Cobb find themselves in some of the major male lead roles while Caroll Baker and Debbie Reynolds are the primary female leads.  The film is loaded with smaller roles including Karl Malden, Agnes Moorehead, Carolyn Jones, Lee Van Cleef, Thelma Ritter, Harry Morgan, Russ Tamblyn, Raymond Massy, Henry Fonda, Claude Akins, and Harry Dean Stanton all have varying size roles from spoken to cameos.  One of the odder small roles is John Wayne playing General William Tecumseh Sherman since Wayne’s name at that time was generally used as a building block for Westerns.  Spencer Tracy provides the narration after being unable to appear in the film.

how the west was won george peppard henry fonda

Well…I reckon we won this West

What How the West Was Won excels in is the visuals.  It is big and bold.  Originally shot in Cinerama, the film was made to be projected on a curved screen to give it a surround feel.  This makes transferring the movie to any home format a bit tricky, but the film still manages to capture the largeness of the story in any format (though it still would be nice to see the picture how it was originally intended).

How the West Was Won is Hollywood on a scale that doesn’t seem to exist anymore.  Yes, there are pictures with larger budgets, but the introduction of special effects with computers and more editing capabilities take away from some of the ingenuity and simple scale of earlier productions.  If it is on the screen, the effect is practical…and not only does How the West Was Won have loads of practical effects, but it also showcases a land that is slowly disappearing.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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