HOW THE WEST WAS WON
HOW THE WEST WAS WON ($60) is a sprawling all-star western entertainment that is set during the nineteenth century and depicts several generations in a single family that made the move west, as the North American continent was opened to settlement. Directed by Henry Hathaway, John Ford and George Marshall, HOW THE WEST WAS WON is broken into a series of five vignettes that covers approximately a fifty-year time period in said family. Additionally, HOW THE WEST WAS WON is also notable for being one of the few films, of such epic scope, that by its design was perfectly married to the three-panel Cinerama process.
HOW THE WEST WAS WON opens in the 1830ís with The Rivers, which introduces westward bound settlers Zebulon Prescott (Karl Malden), wife Rebecca (Agnes Moorehead) and daughters Eve (Carroll Baker) and Lily (Debbie Reynolds) as they travel down the Ohio River. Along the way, the family encounter Linus Rawlings (James Stewart), with whom Eve is immediately smitten. During the course of their travels, the group faces, not only the peril murderous river pirates, but also deadly rapids. HOW THE WEST WAS WON then leapfrogs forward to The Plains, where we encounter an older Lily working in a St. Louis dance hall, as well as professional gambler Cleve Van Valen (Gregory Peck). Upon learning that she has inherited a California gold mine, Lily joins the wagon train with Cleve in pursuit. Wagonmaster Roger Morgan (Robert Preston) also takes an interest in Lily, who has joined up with Agatha Clegg (Thelma Ritter), the only other single female on the wagon train. However, even after surviving an Indian attack, all of our travelers find some disappointments as they reach their destination.
The Civil War introduces Eve and Linusí son Zeb Rawlings (George Peppard), who enlists in the militia against his motherís wishes. After the bloody Battle of Shiloh, Zeb questions his decision to enlist, but an encounter with Generals Ulysses S. Grant (Harry Morgan) and William Tecumseh Sherman (John Wayne), ultimately causes Zeb to rethink his military career. The Railroad finds Zeb a Lieutenant in the Calvary trying to keep the peace with the Indians. However, after railroad man Mike King (Richard Widmark) violates a treaty by cutting across Indian Territory, the Arapaho Indians respond by forcing a Buffalo stampede through the settlerís camp. After realizing it will be impossible to keep the peace, Zeb takes the advise of his fatherís old friend Jethro Stuart (Henry Fonda) and heads for greener pastures.
The Outlaws is the final vignette and moves the story into the 1880ís, where we encounter a widowed and indebted Lily, who is pulling up stakes and moving to her only remaining asset, a cattle ranch in Arizona. Lily invites her nephew Zeb, now a married lawman, to run the ranch for her. When Zeb, his wife Julie (Carolyn Jones) and there children come to meet Lily at the train, Zeb encounters outlaw Charlie Gant (Eli Wallach), with whom the old lawman has had a bit of history. Suspecting that Gant and his gang intend to rob a gold shipment, Zeb calls upon fellow marshal, Lou Ramsey (Lee J. Cobb), to assist him in guarding the gold and eliminating the threat that Gant ultimately poses. The cast of HOW THE WEST WAS WON also features Brigid Bazlen, Walter Brennan, David Brian, Andy Devine, Raymond Massey, Mickey Shaughnessy, Russ Tamblyn and Spencer Tracy as the narrator. Look for Harry Dean Stanton and Lee Van Cleef in uncredited bits.
Warner Home Video has made HOW THE WEST WAS WON available on DVD in a 2.89:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. Image sharpness and detail are terrific at the standard definition level and the DVD compares favorably to the Blu-ray release. HOW THE WEST WAS WON has undergone significant cleanup work in the digital domain to minimize the join lines and match the color and density. The results are quite lovely on DVD. HOW THE WEST WAS WON now looks more like a cohesive single image than it ever has in the past. Colors are truly pleasingly rendered, although the hues on the hi-def presentation do seem somewhat more vivid. Blacks are deep, while the whites appear stable. Contrast and shadow detail are just fine. The film elements display few flaws. There is some grain present in the image, but it never appears excessive. Digital compression artifacts keep a low profile.
HOW THE WEST WAS WON comes with a fine sounding Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. HOW THE WEST WAS WON has big, expansive and slightly exaggerated sound intended for the cavernous movie palaces of the day- where three-panel Cinerama was presented on enormous screens. The forward soundstage has dominance over the rear, but there is still enough ambience, fill and effects finding their way to the surround channels. Fidelity is strong, but not up to modern standards and seems a little thinner than what was apparent of the TrueHD track of the Blu-ray release. Dialogue is clean and easy to understand. A French Dolby Digital 5.1 channel track is also encoded onto the disc. Subtitles are available in English, French, Spanish, Japanese and Thai.
Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental materials. Filmmaker David Strohmaier, director of Cinerama, Inc., John Sittig, film historian Rudy Behlmer, music historian Jon Burlingame, and stuntman Loren James are on hand to provide a running Audio Commentary, which accompany the film on discs one and two. Disc three contains a ninety-seven minute documentary entitled Cinerama Adventure, which looks at the history of Cinerama process. A Theatrical Trailer on disc one, closes out the disc based supplements. The Ultimate Collector's Edition of HOW THE WEST WAS WON also features a thirty-six-page Cinerama Souvenir Book Reproduction that contains photos and production notes, a twenty-page reproduction of the original Exhibitorís Campaign Book, ten Color Photo Cards and ten Black and White Photo Cards.
HOW THE WEST WAS WON is a unique motion picture experience that has been given a truly lovely presentation on DVD. Highly recommended.
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