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How the West Was Won
IMDB Rating: 7.1/10 from votes
Release: 21 February 1963 (Netherlands) /

How the West Was Won

Genre: Western
Director: James R. Webb,
Stars: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Synopsis: Sprawling epic which follows the Prescotts, an emigrant family through four generations, from the Erie Canal in the 1830's to their settled home in the West a half a century later. On the way they encounter river pirates, and escape with the help of fur trapper Linus Rawlings, who subsequently marries one of their daughters, Eve. The parents are drowned on a foundering raft, and the other daughter Lilith becomes a riverboat singer and catches the eye of a genteel adventurer Cleve Van Valen. They cross the plains together in a wagon train and make and lose a fortune in California; meanwhile Linus has turned farmer and, comes the Civil War, joins the Union Army and is killed at the Battle of Shiloh. One of his sons Zeb also joins the army and stays after the war as a cavalry officer and is sent to Colorado to help guard the pioneering railroad against the Indians, whose land they are crossing. By this time Lilith is the elderly lady of the family, having survived long enough to see the ... Written by alfiehitchie

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Critic Reviews


As a seven year old boy who adored history, I was brought by my mother to see this in Cinemascope on a huge screen. Anyone who has seen this can just imagine the impact.

There has always been a healthy dispute about what historical developments most influenced the outlook and behavior of Americans. Among the candidates are: i) the development of an entirely new world on distant shores - a world where the rules were there to be made as the Pilgrims/Puritans/Quakers and others determined, ii) the colonists' growing self-identity as Americans, the evolution of that separate identity, and these peoples' coordination and cooperation from 1607 to the Albany Union conference in 1759, the Stamp Act Congress in 1763 and the Second Continental Congress' decision to declare independence in 1776, iii) the workings of a multi-racial society due to the presence of aboriginal people and the importation of slaves, iv) the role of the frontier and settlement of a continually receding West, v) the enormity of immigration and their inter-action with the native-born from about the 1840s to the present, vi) the sheer size and diverse conditions of topography and climate, vii) the evolution of democracy over four centuries on a large scale, viii) the experience of modernization over the past century on a scale unknown to, and before, the rest of the world.

This movie in effect tells the fourth story - and tells it in a thrilling, colorful way -- from the 1840s when the frontier was still the Ohio Valley to about 1885 - not so long a time. (Contrast this with the 169 year colonial period).

The movie is stunning - beautifully cast - music you'll always remember - and many powerful and moving scenes. So many scenes live forever in my mind

- the return of the George Peppard character from the Civil War to his family's farmstead in Ohio,

-- the astonishing speech by the Richard Widmark character after the buffalo stampede has killed so many,

-- the wonderfully written emotional scenes whenever Debbie Reynolds was dealing with either Robert Preston's clumsy attempt at courtship ("why with hips like yours, having children would be as easy as rolling off a log") or her own love for the roguish Gregory Peck,

-- the George Peppard family (with the wonderful Carolyn Jones and Debbie Reynolds) singing Greensleaves as the movie nears its end,

-- and the astonishing scene of the West transformed into cloverleaf highways and overpasses after we've been watching a deserted West for several hours.

The pride in those who won the West is so evident throughout the movie - yet it's shown along with losses (the deep sadness of Henry Fonda's mountaineer at the continuing encroachment of civilization, the breach of the boundary set in an Indian treaty due to the railroad's need to set a straight course - and the resulting catastrophe).

Not too many years would pass before movie makers would be telling audiences that the settlement of the West was a triumph of vicious villains, charlatans, cynics and fast-buck artists in movies like McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Soldier Blue, Little Big Man, The Wild Bunch.

But I'm deeply grateful that I was old enough to see how the West was won in a movie like this.

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