Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
'The Hollywood Western Epic'
First off, I am a huge fan of what I consider "Classic Hollywood".. films from the 1920s- to the 1960s; when some of the best actors and actresses ever graced the silver screen. Hollywood doesn't make them like they used to when it comes to "epics"... an all-star ensemble in a 2+ hour movie. Films like Gone With The Wind, Doctor Zhivago, The Ten Commandments, Ben Hur, Lawerence of Arabia, and The Towering Infero immediately enter my mind when the word "epic" comes to my mind...and joining them on that list is what I consider to be the definitive "Western Epic".. How The West Was Won.
How The West Was Won...
I first saw this timless film many, many years ago on television. Remembering nothing about the film except its exceptional cast, I couldn't pass up the chance to see it on Blu-Ray. With popcorn in one hand and a soda in the other, I began my 2 1/2 hour adventure into the wilds of the old west.
The film, made in 1962, centers around the Prescott family's move West through generations. Each decade or specific years are dividied into their own segment; the film first starts off in the early 1840s, with the family beginning its long journey West. It then fast forwards to the 1850s; then to the Civil War (1861-1865), then to 1868, and ending in the 1880s. A family's 40 year journey that provides numerous moments of action, suspense, and drama.
Without giving much away in terms of plot and character development; I'll give you a brief description of what each segement represents.
The Rivers (1840).
The beginning of the film starts off in 1840, with the Prescott family boarding a barge on the Erie Canal with dreams of the West (which at this time was Illinois). In the family, daughter Eve (Carroll Baker) has her eyes set on a mountain man named Linus (James Stewart) she met along the way; while her sister Lilith (Debbie Reynolds) wants to return back to the bustling East with its clean, cut gentlemen and glitz. As the family travels, they encounter a band of misfit thieves and deadly white-water rapids.
The Plains (1850s).
The next segment takes place in the 1850s; Lilith is now living in St. Louis where she works as a performer in a dance hall. Lilith is told she has inheritied a California gold mine and travels out to California with Cleve Van Valen (Gregory Peck) and Roger Morgan (Robert Preston); two men after her heart. Before reaching their destination, they encounter an attack by Cheyenne Indians in the desert.
The Civil War (1861-1865).
The next segment starts in 1861; the beginning of the American Civil War. Eve working on her farm when her older son Zeb (George Peppard), decides to join his father Linus in the war and fight for the North. Zeb barely survives the Battle of Shiloh and begins to doubt the North's position and considers abandoning his post.
The Railroad (1868).
The Pony Express, telegraph lines, and railroads begin to attract more to the Western territories. Zeb is now a lieutenant in the U.S. cavalry, trying to maintain peace with the local Indians with the help of buffalo hunter Jethro Stuart (Henry Fonda). When ruthless businessman Mike King (Richard Widmark) violates a treaty to build his railroad, it sparks a fierce war between the Indians and Westerners.
The Outlaws (1880s).
The final segment starts in San Francisco, an older Lilith auctions off her possessions to pay her debts and travels to Zeb's home in Arizona. Zeb, his wife Julie (Carolyn Jones), and his children meet their Aunt Lilith at the station only to run into Charlie Grant (Eli Wallach), and old enemy. Things take an exciting turn when Zeb has to fight off Charlie and his gang on a runaway train; old west style.
What Makes This Film Great?
Like all Hollywood epics, there are many things that make it an exciting and enjoyable adventure. First, let me state the obvious...the cast!
The cast is incredible in the film; Debbie Reynolds, Henry Fonda, Carroll Baker, Gregory Peck, George Peppard, James Stewart, Richard Widmark, and even John Wayne makes an apperance during the Civil War segment.
Why nobody in the cast was nominated for an Academy Award is beyond me... but that's another story!
Second, the soundtrack..one word: AMAZING. From its exciting title screen music to its somber Civil War theme; this film boasts some amazing music. Plus, Debbie Reynolds has numerous singing scenes while she dances in saloons.. doesn't get more Western than that!
Third, the costumes are spot-on! Each segment has unique costumes for the time period; it's more than you're usual cowboy hat and boots..each character has unique style and colors.
Like other epics, the film is "long"..it's just under three hours. However, there is very little dragging...the film keeps you entertained and I was shocked when the film was over because I wanted more!
What I Didn't Like...
There is nothing I can pin-point that I didn't about the film; like every epic there are exiciting moments and depressing moments. The only thing I didn't like, which really isn't the fault of the movie, is at times I had trouble keeping up with characters when it came time to remember names or what their role was.
How is the Blu-Ray?
There are numerous blu-ray editions that are available: A 2-Disc and a single; I purchased the single.
The Blu-Ray is in one word; great. When the film was released in 1962, it was presented in "Cinerama". The film was seperated into three portions and adjusted to make the film appear as if it was surrounding you. The restoration has removed virtually any lines or distortions that may appear.. in-fact the only shot that I noticed faded lines is the film's ending over modern-day California.
The Blu-Ray also features a Making-of Documentary; theatrical trailer; and commentaries.
Where Can I Find This Film?
How The West Was Won should be fairly easy to locate a local stores and online. I have the single-disc Blu Ray; it is also available as a 2-Disc blu ray; 3-Disc DVD Set; and a 1 DVD set.
I recommend going for the Blu-Ray editions over the DVD releases. The prices for the blu-ray editions vary from $7.99 (at BJ's Wholesale Club) to $25.95 (Amazon.com). I would avoid stores like FYE and Barnes & Noble; they tend to mark-up their films by $15-$25 more.
How The West Was Won is not your typical western film..sure there are cowboys, gun-fights, and covered wagons but this film is much more than that. It is a great film to watch in the afternoon or evening; it's good for the young and for the old.
I give the film a solid 4/5 Stars.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening