How The West Was Won Review

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The history of Western expansion in the United States as told by the story of one pioneer family's history.


Filmed in Cinerama, the widescreen process that filled a triple-size screen and left shimmering lines down the image, this is now as thinly letterboxed a video as you’ll ever see, offering more than the third of the film previously available for the home screen. From the hilariously smug trailer (“The most fabulous film ever conceived, from any standpoint”) to an unintentionally petrifying final cut that supposedly signifies progress (a segue from the tamed wilderness to a modern day traffic jam to show the good job we did with the West) this is heroically overblown. It takes an all-star cast (John Wayne, James Stewart, Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck, etc.), three directors (John Ford, Henry Hathaway, George Marshall) and narration from Spencer Tracy, plus an epic score by Alfred Newman, to follow one family throughout the winning of the West, covering fur trappers, settlers, the Civil War, ranchers, railroads and outlaws. In all the gargantuousness, however there are redeemable moments, especially in Ford’s oddly scaled Civil War episode.

A grand folly, but lots to love.