How the West Was Won was one of the last “old-fashioned” epic films made by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to enjoy great success. Set between 1839 and 1889, it follows four generations of a family (starting as the Prescotts) as they move ever westward, from western New York state to the Pacific Ocean. It was filmed in the Cinerama process.
The fundamental idea behind the film was to provide an episodic retelling of the progress of westward migration and development of America. It was inspired by a much longer and more complex series of historical narratives that appeared as a photo essay series, by the same name, three years earlier in Life magazine, which is acknowledged in the film’s credits.
The all-star cast includes (in alphabetical order) Carroll Baker, Walter Brennan, Lee J. Cobb, Andy Devine, Henry Fonda, Carolyn Jones, Karl Malden, Harry Morgan, Gregory Peck, George Peppard, Robert Preston, Debbie Reynolds, James Stewart, Eli Wallach,John Wayne, and Richard Widmark. The film is narrated by Spencer Tracy.
The movie consists of five segments, three directed by Henry Hathaway (“The Rivers”, “The Plains” and “The Outlaws”), and one each by John Ford (“The Civil War”) andGeorge Marshall (“The Railroad”), with transitional sequences by the uncredited Richard Thorpe. The screenplay was written by John Gay (uncredited) and James R. Webb. Popular western author Louis L’Amour wrote a novelization of the screenplay.
The score is widely considered to be one of film scoring legend Alfred Newman’s best, and appears on the AFI’s 100 Years of Film Scores list. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score, losing to Tom Jones. The score is listed at #25 on AFI’s 100 Years of Film Scores. In 1997, How the West Was Won was selected for preservation in the United StatesNational Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
3 hrs., incuding intermission