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How the West Was Won (1962).

May 12, 2009

The Scoop:
This is a big story told on a big canvas.

The tale of America’s westward expansion is told through three generations of a single family, with plenty of exciting action, gorgeous photography and even a history lesson to boot. There are stars galore to suit the larger-than-life subject matter — James Stewart, Gregory Peck, John Wayne, Debbie Reynolds, Henry Fonda, Richard Widmark, Robert Preston and Walter Brennan, just to name a few.

Filmed in Cinerama — the wide screen megaformat that was a precursor to the modern IMAX format — the cinematography still manages to dazzle even on the small screen at home; but it’s the type of movie that should only be seen in letterbox, or not at all. The Cinerama process does wonders for the wide-open vistas of the West, and directors Henry Hathaway, John Ford, George Marshall and Richard Thorpe use that to full advantage. Cinerama’s one drawback is the way it minimizes intimacy and human scale, but that hardly matters here. The crew of directors have found ingenious ways to work around it — every frame is permeated with a sense of proud heroism that never grows preachy.

It’s a corny sort of Americana, but it’s one that’s executed well. However if the story drags too much for you, you can just lose yourself in the fabulous visuals. A true American movie.

Best Bit:
The white-knuckle river rapids scene.

Side Note:
The uncredited narrator is Spencer Tracy.

Companion Viewing:
Something else equally epic from the same period — say, “Ben Hur” (1959) or “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” (1962).

Fan site.
Wikipedia explains the Cinerama process.

Take a Look:
The trailer. Check out the cast of gazillions:

The train robbery:

Remember when movies had overtures and intermissions? Those were the days…

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