Synopsis – A family saga covering several decades of Westward expansion in the 19th century, including the Gold Rush, the Civil War, and the building of the railroads – How the West Was Won.
Directors – John Ford, Henry Hathaway, George Marchall
Starring – James Stewart, John Wayne, Gregory Peck, Henry Fonda, Carroll Baker, Debbie Reynolds
Genre – Western | Adventure | Drama
Released – 1962
For fans of – The Good the Bad and the Ugly, The Magnificent Seven, The Iron Horse
How the West Was Won is considered by most to be the last great movie out of MGM and the great success that it enjoyed is somewhat a testament to this. Even to this day, this unusually directed and filmed movie has enough quality about it to warrant high praise, although I imagine it has lost some of the magic it would have contained back in 1962 when viewed in all its glory on a giant curved screen.
Filmed over five segments and directed by three different men, the flow of the plot is an unusual one, following multiple generations of the same family as they make their way back and forth over this burgeoning country, but it’s not this interesting chapter-like plot that makes this film so groundbreaking for the time, or the use of three cameras to produce a truly widescreen picture, but the fact that it’s the female characters who make the movie, whereas the males of the piece fell like bystanders in their wives/sisters/daughters life plan.
With multiple hands directing the piece and a cast as long as your arm, kudos need to go to the various cinematographers for making sure this didn’t end up feeling like multiple movies stitched together, but rather one continuous film, a film that boasts a certain poetic beauty.
As a whole, How the West Was Won is pretty near flawless, with the only complaints stemming from the steady pace you enjoy for 4 of the 5 sections not continuing in the final one, where the story flies towards an ending that to some might feel a little contrived. However, this is a minor issue and probably has more to do with the time in which it was made rather than poor pacing. Audiences of the time are very unlikely to sit through such a long film unless it has a happy payoff at the end and unlike today when all blockbusters are setting up for a sequel, this was always planned as a one-and-done type situation.
As a relative fan of the Western genre, How the West was Won is a hard film to find fault with. There’s great acting across the board, exciting sequences dotted throughout and enough inventive film techniques to keep the film fans amongst you entertained.