“How the West Was Won” was originally released in 1962. It was an MGM “epic” and one of its last ones, running three hours and requiring an intermission. In the simplest of terms, the movie is spectacular.
Here is a partial — and I stress partial — list of stars: Carroll Baker, Walter Brennan, Lee J. Cobb, Henry Fonda, Karl Malden, Harry Morgan, Gregory Peck, George Peppard, Robert Preston, Debbie Reynolds, James Stewart, Eli Wallach and Richard Widmark. Oh yeah, and John Wayne. Oh yeah again, and it was narrated by Spencer Tracy.
The film is so huge (hence the term epic) it required three directors: John Ford, Henry Hathaway and George Marshall.
We follow four generations of a family as they work their way west, starting in New York and ending at the Pacific Ocean. We watch as they cross the plains of what is now the Midwest, fight and die in the Civil War, and play a role in the development of the cross country railroad. But mostly, we watch the people against the background of these events. We watch them live, succeed, struggle and die. And when you’re done watching this three-hour movie, you hope you have three more hours to sit and watch it again.
I had the truly joyous experience recently of watching “How the West Was Won” in the theater where it premiered — the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, California. They had a special screening, and we were able to see it in the curved-screen three-projector process, as it was meant to be seen. The crowd — obviously all fans — was treated to a talk by and home movies of Todd Fisher (Debbie Reynolds’ son and Carrie Fisher’s brother). Watching old home movies of the two kids on the set with their mom was an absolute treat.
If you have a chance to watch this again, or for the first time, do so. If you ever have the opportunity to see it on the big screen, run, don’t walk!