Wednesday, February 23, 2022

#2,713. How the West Was Won (1962) - The Wild West


Man, would I love to see this movie in Cinerama!

A process that utilized three projectors working in unison, beamed onto a large, curved screen, Cinerama was the ultimate widescreen experience, and only a handful of movies over the years utilized it (including It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and, most recently, Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight). With action and excitement aplenty, not to mention some gorgeous scenery, How the West Was Won is as grand an epic as Hollywood ever produced.

Narrated by Spencer Tracy, How the West Was Won was such a monumental undertaking that it required the combined talents of three directors (Henry Hathaway, John Ford, and George Marshall) to bring it to life. Spanning 50 years, the film focuses on several generations of the same family, starting in 1839, when Mountain trapper Linus Rawlings (James Stewart) met and fell in love with Eve (Carroll Baker), daughter of Zebulon Prescott (Karl Malden), who was heading west with his family via the Erie Canal.

Eve’s sister Lilith (Debbie Reynolds) eventually makes her way to St. Louis, where she headlines as a singer in a music hall. To her surprise, Lilith inherits a California gold mine, left to her by an elderly admirer. Her good fortune draws the attention of shady gambler Cleve Van Valen (Gregory Peck), who accompanies Lilith on her trip west to claim her property.

Several years later, the Civil War breaks out, and both Linus Rawlings and his son Zeb (George Peppard) enlist in the Union Army. Though initially excited at the prospect of fighting for his country, Zeb becomes disillusioned as the war drags on.

By 1868, Zeb is a Lieutenant in the U.S. Cavalry, and finds himself in the middle of a tense standoff when railroad man Mike King (Richard Widmark) breaks a treaty with the Cheyenne Indians. Resigning from the military, Zeb and his wife Julie (Carolyn Jones) head to California, where he finally meets his aunt Lilith.

Unfortunately, the dangerous outlaw Charlie Gant (Eli Wallach) has also arrived in the territory, and Zeb is convinced he intends to rob a large shipment of gold that’s headed out on the next train.

That’s one hell of a cast, isn’t it? But How the West Was Won features even more stars than I listed above, including Agnes Moorehead (as Eve and Lilith’s mother), Robert Preston (as Roger Morgan, a wagon master who falls in love with Lilith), Henry Fonda, Thelma Ritter, Lee J. Cobb, Raymond Massey (as Abraham Lincoln) and John Wayne (as Union General William Tecumseh Sherman).

How the West Was Won is also an action-packed motion picture. From an early scene where the Prescott family’s raft is caught in a raging current to the buffalo stampede that levels a railroad camp, the movie is as exciting as they come. Not to be outdone, the showdown on a moving train between Zeb Rawlings and Charlie Gant is a thrill-a-minute, and closes the movie out on a high note.

A sprawling, grand, and glorious epic, How the West Was Won stands as a monument to the Hollywood of yesteryear, a reminder of just how magical, just how spectacular the Dream Factory could be when they got it right.
Rating: 10 out of 10

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