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How the West Was Won [Blu-ray]

 Unrated   Blu-ray
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
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How the West Was Won [Blu-ray] + From Here to Eternity (1953) [Blu-ray] (Bilingual)
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The first feature film to be photographed and projected in the panoramic three-camera Cinerama process, this epic Western is almost as expansive as the West itself, chronicling a pioneering family's triumphs and tragedies in numerous episodes spanning three generations and a half century of westward movement. Divided into five segments directed by veteran Hollywood filmmakers Henry Hathaway, George Marshall, and the legendary John Ford (and including uncredited sequences directed by Richard Thorpe), the film was one of the most ambitious ever made by the venerable MGM studio. Its stellar cast reads like a virtual who's who of Hollywood's biggest stars. Debbie Reynolds plays a sturdy survivor of many pioneering dangers, and the eventual widow of a gambler (Gregory Peck), who is later reunited with her nephew (George Peppard), a Civil War veteran and cavalryman who heads for San Francisco as the transcontinental railroad is being built. Many more characters and stories are woven throughout this epic film, which is dramatically uneven but totally engrossing with its stunning vistas and countless outdoor locations in Illinois, Kentucky, South Dakota, Monument Valley in Arizona, California, Colorado, and elsewhere. --Jeff Shannon

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Middling story and atrocious transfer June 3 2004
I like westerns. My favorite entries in the genre are spaghetti westerns, those cheap, ultra low budget Italian takes on the American West. I always try to fit some of these movies into my viewing schedule, and when the day came where I considered it time to watch Sergio Leone's epic "Once Upon a Time in the West," I headed out to rent it. Imagine my surprise when I got home and saw that I inadvertently checked out "How the West Was Won" instead. I scratched my head, not familiar at all with the title. After all, I like westerns but I don't know a lot about the genre or the films I have yet to see. When I saw the cast list for this 1962 movie, I decided not to take it back without watching and seeing if I liked it. I think I would be remiss to have skipped this one on initial impression alone; the cast list reads like a "who's who" of mid twentieth century Hollywood. You've got Carroll Baker, Lee J. Cobb, Agnes Moorehead, Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, George Peppard, Debbie Reynolds, Eli Wallach, John Wayne, Richard Widmark, Walter Brennan, Karl Malden, Carolyn Jones, Harry Morgan, Raymond Massey, and Robert Preston filling the roles. Spencer Tracy voices the narration. Howard Hawks and John Ford directed specific segments of the film. What a list of talent! Couldn't go wrong with a movie like this one, right? Wrong.
As amazing as it seems, "How the West Was Won" is not a very good experience. The movie runs for an eternity as it attempts to describe the different experiences in settling the American West. At the beginning of the film, the Prescott clan heads out to the West in search of farmland and a new beginning.
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In a remarkable coincidence, the same day I saw "How the West was Won" at the Seattle Cinerama (03/01/03), the History Channel aired a program on the history of the wheel. One of the talking-head experts opined that the wheel's invention marked a fundamental change in human thought -- not only was there a technological solution to every problem, but nature could be bent to human will, forced to reveal her secrets and serve us.
This is the theme of "How the West was Won." It starts with the title, and extends to nearly everything in the film. The narration tells us that the land had to be wrested from nature and from the "primitive people" who inhabited (and by implication, infested) it. The chorus is continually singing about how "we're headed for the promised land" and those who are willing to work hard will be richly rewarded (except the Chinese railroad laborers, of course). We were justified in overrunning the continent because we are actually "doing something" with it -- as opposed to the Indians, who merely lived there in harmony with nature. Not having invented the wheel, they saw no further possibilities.
James Webb's script <does> acknowledge the culture clash between the Americans and the native peoples, recognizing that the latter will have to eventually change or be destroyed. But this is peripheral to the celebration of the industry, hard work, and sacrifice of the Americans, who "tamed" the wilderness. The film ends with a nausea-inducing flyover of the California freeways (I sat next to a guy who'd taken Dramamine in anticipation of such scenes), followed by a flight under the Golden Gate bridge, firmly and unambiguously driving the point home.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Wake me when it's over June 13 2004
I kind of figured television was responsible for this... movie. HOW THE WEST WAS WON dvd comes with a featurette on the making of the movie, in which we learn that the movie studios developed the Cinerama process (three cameras shot the movie which was projected onto three specially designed screens. Think IMAX) to present an alternative "viewing experience" to compete with television.
Watching this on television, even in a letterbox edition, is excruciating. There are visible bars where the three screens meet. Often the color in one screen doesn't jibe with that of the adjoining screen.
Those defects could be corrected by digital manipulation, I suppose, but what's the point? The Cinerama screen was meant to wrap around the audience and a television screen is flat. What can't be corrected is the lack of close-ups and a surplus of dead space.
Almost all the action takes place in the center panel, and the closest we get to the action is in a medium shot. Most of the time there's nothing happening on the edge panels. Two-thirds of the screen is dead. The only time Cinerama seemed to shine was when chaotic action was swiftly coming at the audience, which is why we are so often treated to onrushing trains and galloping horses and stampeding buffalo shot from a camera in the ground. I think it would have taken a visual genius the likes of a Busby Berkeley to exploit Cinerama's potential without having to open the paddock.
The featurette also tells us HTWWW had a cast of 12,000. I guess maybe a dozen of them weren't miscast, but that's just a guess.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars loved it
almost wish it was a little longer. needed to fill in a few spots with a little more detail but this was a long movie to begin with
Published 8 months ago by lenore c
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Film
Great film, nearly perfect, just the odd frame that shows some lines, but this did not spoil the viewing experience.
Published 20 months ago by Jim
5.0 out of 5 stars An historic epic in more ways than one.
This is a big movie in almost every respect. A big cast of big names, covering a big sweep of US history. The vistas are big across the extra-wide-screen Cinerama process. Read more
Published on March 9 2012 by PD Johnston
5.0 out of 5 stars breath taking
I saw this film in one of those Cinerama theaters in 1963 as a kid and was mightily impressed, but was disturbed by the lines which appeared on the huge screen created by the use... Read more
Published on June 6 2011 by Dr. Kai Wang
1.0 out of 5 stars Not so good
This is not a John Wayne movie because he appears only two minutes in it. The movie is no good.
Published on Feb. 18 2011 by johnwayne fan
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic
Nothing need be said about this movie, blu-ray enhances the experience as we would expect but to fully appreciate the smilebox you will need the 50' screen. Read more
Published on May 22 2010 by M. K. Robson
4.0 out of 5 stars Best Blu-ray so far
If all Blu-ray movies were presented as well as this one, I'd own quite a few more. This is how it should be done.

The packaging, for once, actually adds to the value. Read more
Published on Nov. 8 2009 by fung0
5.0 out of 5 stars The penultimate jaw dropping western
This is the kind of epic film-making that has all but disappeared. Three of the top western directors each took on a major segment (Henry Hathaway The Rivers and the Plains, John... Read more
Published on April 20 2009 by Trevor Street
5.0 out of 5 stars Please disregard all reviews prior to 2008
Warner Home Video has announced a 2-disc special edition of How the West Was Won which stars John Wayne, Henry Fonda, and James Stewart. Read more
Published on Aug. 7 2008 by Sherri Todd
2.0 out of 5 stars Needs a better format, anamorphic
I saw the film in LA, at the original Cinerama, in the original
showing. This film is not going to be right until shown in
HDTV (HD-DVD), but for Pete's sake, why... Read more
Published on April 15 2004 by Scott A. Moore
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