How The West Was Won
Release Date: February 20, 1963

How The West Was Won
It took $15 million, three directors, 23 stars and co-stars, more than 12,000 extras, 77 sets, 1200 bison, 875 horses, 500 steer, 200 sheep, 160 mules and 50 oxen to make this 1963 Cinerama extravaganza. The focus of the film is the Prescott family who are searching for the "promise" land in the wild west. It is ironic that the final scene in the movie is an airborne shot of  heavy traffic on the Hollywood Freeway! Nowadays such a shot recalls the adventures of OJ Simpson rather than the success of the pioneering spirit of early settlers. If one can set aside the loss of confidence in American omnipotence that the later years of the Sixties produced, and snuggle into a large chair with a huge bowl of popcorn and cast "politically correct" notions aside for a few hours, then you are in for a treat. The biggest stars of the early Sixties perform admirably despite the difficulties posed by the Cinerama cameras that required close-ups to be shot from only 18 inches from the actor's head! It is delightful to see James Stewart play a fur trapper named Linus Rawlings and win over the heart of Carroll Baker who plays Eve Prescott. Eve's sister , Lillith (Debbie Reynolds) falls in love with a slick gambler and opportunist named Cleve Van Valen (Gregory Peck). One is entertained by  the marvelous performances of Lee J. Cobb (Marshall Lou Ramsey), Henry Fonda ( Jethro Stuart), Karl Malden (Zebulon Prescott), George Peppard (Zeb Rawlings) and other stars too numerous to mention.

The Cinerama technique involved using 3 cameras and seven-channel stereophonic sound, but only a dozen theatres were ever able to show the movie in all its glory. In the DVD version, two vertical lines - where film from the cameras join  - are clearly visible. But once you get used to that distraction and concentrate on the action, the movie moves along at a lively pace. The best scenes are wonders to behold: hundreds of buffalo stampeding through the white man's campsite at the urging of Indians who felt betrayed by the arrival of thousands of settlers, and the spectacular gunfight on a moving train.  The musical score of Alfred Newman, which incorporates folk tunes with symphonic overtures, is brilliant. Indeed the music provides soul and unity to the different sequences directed by Henry Hathaway, George Marshall and John Ford. Yes indeed, this film is a product of "another time, before the self-doubt and introspection of the last quarter of the 20th century became predominant. Nowadays, the moviegoer is not likely to feel  goose bumps of nationalistic pride as the conquest of the west unfolds, but rather troubled nostalgia for a time so free of doubt.


Copyright: Peter Fokes (2003)
Back to From Toronto With Love