How the West Was Won (1963) C
MGM (MGM and Cinerama Production)
Far from being the definitive Western it was meant to be, “How the West Was Won” is mostly notable for its sheer size, lengthy running time (162 minutes), fine locations and photography, and some exciting action sequences. But the film lacks dramatic conviction, intriguing characters, or the epic scale it sought to achieve.
Three of Hollywood's most renowned directors, Henry Hathaway, John Ford, and George Marshall, worked in close coordination, sharing the task of making the first feature using the Cinerama process. They were assisted by four top cinematographers, a cast of 24 stars, and a roster of over 50 actors and stunt men.
The script, credited to James Webb, was a compendium of just about every clich seen in Western movies. Built on familiar plots and situations, the saga features well-known stars, but unfortunately they only give the West a dj vu quality. The acting of the all-star cast is too perfunctory, the scenario too diffuse, the spectacle too contrived to register emotionally.
Thematically, the film unfolds as a sprawling but uninvolving tale of three generations of a pioneer family between the 1830s and 1890. Specifically, there are five interrelated episodes in telling the story of a half-century of America's westward expansion, seen through the eyes of multiple generations of one pioneer family.
The yarn then jumps to present-day America, with aerial shots of L.A. freeways, and the problems of coping with the present, as an illustration of the inevitable progress and the price it takes to achieve that.
Henry Hathaway directed the first part up to the Civil War, John Ford oversaw the relatively brief Civil War sequences, and George Marshall did the rest of the boring saga. The divergent styles of the three directors' divergent made the saga all the more shapeless. For instance, the Ford sequences changed the mood of the film from light adventure to nostalgia.
The characters played by Debbie Reynolds and George Peppard bear the main burden in carrying the picture throughout its excessive duration. John Wayne played General Sherman in the Civil War sequence, but his footage was limited. As the grizzled buffalo hunter Jethro Stuart, Henry Fonda appears with flowing hair and moustache, which makes him unrecognizable, and his role, lime many of the other ones, was poorly cut.
Even a generous and undiscriminating critic such as Bosley Crowther of the N.Y. Times found the film to be a patchwork of Western clichs, with no imagination, no pictorial style, full of random horribly written episodes. Other critics suggested to retitle the film as “How the West Was Done–To Death.”
Nonetheless, viewers went to see the novelty of Cinerama and the attractive imagery, which was never been done like that before. Cinerama is enormous and overwhelming and people were willingly to pay more for their tickets.
Narrator (Spencer Tracy)
Eve Prescott (Carroll Baker)
Lou Ramsey (Lee J. Cobb)
Jethro Stuart (Henry Fonda)
Zebulon Prescott (Karl Malden)
Cleve Van Valen (Gregoy Peck)
Zeb Rawlings (George Peppard)
Roger Morgan (Robert Preston)
Lilith Prescott (Debbie Reynolds)
Linus Rawlings (James Stewart)
General Sherman (John Wayne)
Oscar Nominations: 8
Picture, produced by Bernard Smith
Story and Screenplay (Original): James R. Webb
Cinematography: William H. Daniels, Milton Krasner, Charles Lang, Jr. and Joseph LaShelle
Art Direction-Set Decoration (color): George W. Davis, William Ferrari, and Addison Hehr; Henry Grace, Don Greenwood, Jr. and Jack Mills
Music Score (Original): Alfred Newman and Ken Darby
Sound: Franklin E. Milton
Film Editing: Harold F. Kress
Costumes (color): Walter Plunkett
Oscar Awards: 3
Story and Screenplay
“Tom Jones” is the first allBritish film to win the Best Picture Oscar since Olivier's “Hamlet,” in 1948. It's also the only film in the Academy's annals to have nominated three Supporting Actresses.
Artistically, “Tom Jones” was superior to all the other nominees in 1963: Kazan's personal drama, “America, America;” Mankiewicz's problematic “Cleopatra,” which almost sank Fox; Ford's tired and old-fashioned anthology, “How the West Was Won;” and “Lilies of the Field,” which won Sidney Poitier the Best Picture, thus depriving Finney of the honor. “Cleopatra” won the Cinematography, Art Direction, and Costume Design Oscars.
One Response to “How the West Was Won (1963)”
Leave a Reply
- Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of Plains Indian)
- Fast & Furious 6: Thrilling Joyride
- Angelina Jolie Double Mastectomy–Talk of Cannes Film Fest
- Bling Ring, The
- Before Midnight: Hawke and Delpie at Mid-Age
- Stories We Tell
- Great Gatsby: Luhrmann’s Jazzy Spectacle
- Star Trek into Darkness: Solid Sequel
- Love Is All You Need: From Denmark Via Italy
- Kiss of the Damned: Oversexed Vampires
- Murphy’s Romance (1986): James Garner’s Only Oscar Nomination