"That goddamned Cinerama... do you know a waist shot is as close as you could get with that thing'"
- Henry Hathaway
"The epic journey of four generations of Americans who carved out a country with their bare hands."
- line from the poster for the 1970 reissue
Academy Awards 1963 -
Best Film Editing: Harold F. Kress
Academy Awards 1963 -
Best Original Screenplay: James R. Webb
Academy Awards 1963 -
USA Today - 08/14/1998
"Hollywood's definitive all-star Western pageant....There's plenty of nostalgia to be gleaned from seeing James Stewart, John Wayne, Henry Fonda and so many more in their superstar primes..."
Entertainment Weekly - 09/19/2008
"The buffalo stampede, rapids run, and train robbery sequences are seamless..." -- Grade: A-
New York Times - 09/08/2008
"[T]he open-air sequences...with their unmoving camera, long-shot compositions and rootedness in the rural landscape, recall the work of the American pioneer D.W. Griffith."
Total Film - 12/01/2008 4 stars out of 5 -- "[A]n epic western of staggering scale and ambition....The buffalo stampede is a pummelling experience on the small screen; writ large, it must have been terrifying."
Hollywood's most celebrated luminaries--behind the camera as well as in front of it--combined talents to present this epic tale of the development of the American West from the 1830s through the Civil War to the end of the century, as seen through the eyes of one pioneer family. The film, divided into three chapters--"The Civil War" (directed by John Ford), "The Railroad" (directed by George Marshall), and "The River, the Plains, the Outlaws" (directed by Henry Hathaway)--tells the story of the Prescotts, a spirited group of easterners who make a declaration to migrate west. When their parents are lost in a tragic river accident, Eve (Carroll Baker) and Lilith (Debbie Reynolds) go their separate ways. Eve remains on the land that took her parents, settling down with the well-intentioned Linus Rawlings (James Stewart), while Lilith becomes a singer who is courted by the conniving Cleve Van Valen (Gregory Peck) when he learns that she has inherited a fortune in California. As time passes and the Civil War takes the life of Linus, the newest generation of Prescott offspring struggles with even greater danger and loss, in the form of fierce Indians as well as family archrivals. Top-notch production values and an endless string of solid performances have earned HOW THE WEST WAS WON the well-deserved label as one of Hollywood's most revered classics.
Epic and episodic tale of the development of the American West from the 1830s through the Civil War to the end of the century, as seen through the eyes of the pioneer Prescott family. As the Prescotts struggle with danger and loss, and newfound love, the vast canvas of US history unfolds around them. Top notch production values and a "who's who" of performances have solidified this as a Hollywood classic.
Civil War |
Essential Cinema |
Family Interaction |
Theatrical release: February 21, 1963.
Filmed at the MGM Studios and on location in Custer State Park, Black Hills, and Rapid City, South Dakota; in Uncompaghre National Forest, Rocky Mountains, Montrose, Durango, and Silverton, Colorado; on the Ohio and Cumberland Rivers and in Paducah, Kentucky; in Oatman, Perkinsville, Superior, and Canyon de Chelly, Arizona; in Monument Valley, Utah; in Eugene and Grand Pass, Oregon; in San Francisco, Lone Pine, Bishop, Simi, and Scotia, California; and in Tonto National Forest and Inyo National Forest.
The picture was named on the National Board of Review's list of the 10 Best Films of the Year.
James R. Webb's script was suggested by a LIFE magazine series.
Action sequences from "The Civil War" section of the film were borrowed from the 1957 Edward Dmytryk movie RAINTREE COUNTY. Shots of marching Mexican troops were from the 1960 John Wayne project, THE ALAMO.
The film's opening credits bear this dedication: "To the officials of the state of South Dakota, the United States Forest Service and Bureau Reclamation we express deep appreciation."
When the film was released in 1963, there was no MPAA rating system in place. It was rated G by the MPAA for its 1970 reissue.
From February 1978 to April 1979, ABC aired a MGM television series based on the film. Also entitled HOW THE WEST WAS WON, this extravagantly produced series was filmed on location in Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and Southern California, and starred TV Western icon James Arness, along with Fionnula Flanagan, Bruce Boxleitner, Kathryn Holcomb, William Kirby Cullen, and Vicki Schreck.
Bob Morgan, a stuntman in "The Outlaws" sequence, lost a leg during production.
Appearing in the film as "Indian Chiefs" were Ben Black Elk, Jr., William Shake Spears, Chief Oglalla Hansaka, Chief Weasel, and Red Cloud. Appearing in the film as "Indians" were members of the Brulee Sioux, Oclalles Sioux, Minnecanjous Sioux, Arapahoe, and Cheyenne Nations.
The film originally featured seven-track magnetic Cinerama sound, which utilized the standard five channels behind the screen as well as two additional surround channels on either side of the audience. The Westrex Recording System was used in the production of the soundtrack.
The film's process shots and background scenes utilized Ultra Panavision 70 cameras and lenses, which were provided by Panavision, Inc. Matte shots and shots using backdrops and rear projections could not be filmed with Cinerama cameras, because they could film past and "around" flat backgrounds. Robert R. Hoag of the MGM Laboratories Optical Department supervised the transfer of this 70mm material to the three-panel Super Cinerama in order to match the rest of the footage. Original Cinerama aspect ratio: 2.59:1.
Original prints of the film featured footage of "modern" San Francisco, in order to show how far the West had come since. Because 1963 San Francisco is no longer be considered modern, many prints have eliminated this sequence in order to avoid dating the film.
MGM later destroyed all Super Cinerama prints, and only a 70mm Super Cinerama dupe remains. A 35mm anamorphic version of the film also exists. It features four-track stereo, but lacks an overture, the intermission, and exit music. The title card for the intermission was left in, just in case a theater might want to break anyway. Three separate 16mm versions of the film exist: an anamorphic version with a 2.74:1 aspect ratio; a Metroscope version that measures 1.75:1; and a 1.37:1 Metroscan version.
The picture was one of the first story films to be produced in three-strip Cinerama. Five projectionists were required to operate the three 35mm projectors which, when placed side by side, to produced a seamless image on a huge curved screen.
Original running time: 162 minutes, plus an intermission and an overture.