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Film / How the West Was Won

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"Stride by stride—they tamed the savage prairie land
Nothing stopped them—no wind nor rain nor sun!
Side by side—these pioneers from every land:
All pulled together—That's how...the West was won!!!"

How the West Was Won is a 1962 motion picture by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It was the last major feature filmed in the classic 3-strip Cinerama widescreen format. Tells the story of the westward-bound Prescott family through four generations and many events in American history. Famously, this movie stars over twenty big-name stars from the era, including Jimmy Stewart, Debbie Reynolds, Henry Fonda, Carroll Baker, John Wayne, Eli Wallach, and Gregory Peck. There were probably more stars in this movie than any other in the history of Hollywood. It had three directors, though one of them, Henry Hathaway, directed three of the five stories. The other two were John Ford and George Marshall (no, not the general). The epic music is also pretty famous.

There was a television show loosely based on the movie in the late '70s. Moderately successful in America, but a huge hit in Europe, where it's still well-known.


This film contains examples of:

  • Adult Fear: Being crushed to death by buffalo is bad enough, but when your toddler child outlives you, and has no one to turn to? Terrifying.
  • Artistic License – History: How does anyone manage to explain the background for the American Civil War without mentioning the slavery issue at all? It's likely that the film is Manifest Destiny propaganda, and so deliberately glosses over the issue altogether.
  • Badass Mustache: Hardy mountain man Jethro has a big, bushy, very impressive one.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Linus Rawlings arrives just in time to save the Prescotts from the river pirates.
  • The Cameo: Lee Van Cleef as one of the river pirates, and Harry Dean Stanton as one of Gant's Mooks.
  • Cassandra Truth: Ultimately subverted concerning Gant; the town marshal initially doesn't believe Zeb when he claims that Gant is trying to cause trouble but later agrees to help his attempt to ambush Gant during a planned train robbery.
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  • Dark Is Evil: Charlie Gant wears mostly black.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: The Sheriff played by Lee J. Cobb also wears dark colours.
  • Death by Despair: Eve, after her husband is killed in the Civil War.
  • Designated Girl Fight: Lilith takes on the only female in the pack of river pirates when they fight.
  • Determined Homesteader: The Prescott family.
  • Disappeared Dad / Missing Mom: Lilith and Eve's parents, as well as one of their brothers, is killed in the first act.
  • Due to the Dead: Being a pious man, Zebulon believes that everyone deserves some sort of funeral and a spot in Heaven, no matter what they did in life, so after he and his party (including Linus) defeat the Indian rustlers that tried to ambush them, they burn the casualties in a funeral pyre made from the rustlers' portable trading post and, at the end of a brief prayer led by Zebulon, intercede for the rustlers. Later, after he himself dies trying and failing to save his wife during a deadly trip along the rapids, their remains, upon recovery, are buried under a nearby tree.
  • Epic Movie: With an epic scope that spans decades of American history, an all-star cast, gigantic (for the time) action scenes involving hundreds of extras, and even real animals, the film lives up to the idea of an epic movie.
  • Fake Shemp: James Stewart offered to play his own dead body in the Civil War story but was refused by John Ford, who instead used a double who bore no resemblance to Stewart.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Gant. Being played by the very likable Eli Wallach helps.
  • Hell-Bent for Leather: The trope name is used as a Precision F-Strike in the title song.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted with one of the Prescott boys dying as a child. Played straight with Zeb's children, who are kept safely out of the way with their mother and great aunt while Zeb deals with Gant.
  • Large Ham: The performances in this movie (most noticeably from Gregory Peck) tend to be "bigger" and broader than what one generally expect from the genre. This is because the Cinerama photography made close-ups impossible, so the actors felt they had to "play up" their roles and emotions in order to make up for it.
    • Charlie Gant easily out-hams everyone else in the entire movie, with the possible exception of Zebulon Prescott.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Lilith in her showgirl years.
  • Out-Gambitted: Gant didn't know Zeb's friend would agree to help ambush his gang during the attempted train robbery.
  • Overprotective Dad: Zebulon, who becomes suspicious the next morning when he thinks his daughter slept with Linus Rawlings.
  • Precision F-Strike: In the title song, yet!
  • Scenery Porn: Big, sweeping, gorgeous landscapes.
  • The Smurfette Principle: There's only one woman in the gang of river pirates.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: "And now, let us pray: O Lord, we thank Thee for our salvation. We commit the souls of our dead to Thy gentle keepin'. We pray for the speedy recovery of our wounded. And now, another matter: O Lord, without consulting with Thee we have sent Thy way some souls whose evil ways passeth all understanding. We ask Thee humbly to receive them... whether You want 'em or not. Amen."
  • Stalker with a Crush: Mr. Morgan. Cleve to an extent, both for Lilith.
  • Stock Footage: Some stock footage from other (non-Cinerama) epics were used. The Mexican army marching past the Alamo came from The Alamo and a Civil War battle was taken from Raintree County. The final scenes of the modern U.S. were from This Is Cinerama.
  • Title Drop
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Zeb to the Confederate "deserter" he had befriended before being forced to kill him to protect Generals Grant and Sherman.
    Zeb Rawlings: Why did you make me do that?
  • Would Hurt a Child: Gant threatens to kill Zeb's children.


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