Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Essential Cinema - 35

How The West Was Won
(A Special Note: This film is also available for download and viewing)

Carroll Baker
Lee J. Cobb
Henry Fonda
Carolyn Jones
Karl Malden
Gregory Peck
George Peppard
Robert Preston
Debbie Reynolds
James Stewart
Eli Wallach
John Wayne
Richard Widmark
Brigid Bazlen
Walter Brennan
David Brian
Andy Devine
Raymond Massey
Agnes Moorehead
Harry Morgan
Thelma Ritter
Mickey Shaughnessy
Russ Tamblyn
Spencer Tracy

John Ford
Henry Hathaway
George Marshall
Richard Thorpe

James R. Webb

William H. Daniels
Milton R. Krasner
Charles Lang
Joseph LaShelle

The story of 4 generations of a single family and their journey through the west from 1800 to 1900.

Our roots. Where we have come from and what makes us who we are. The concept of manifest destiny and our drive to conquer the unknown and find a better tomorrow.

I have watched this film several times and I am always captivated by its scope and sense of grandeur. This is a BIG film, lasting almost 3 hours and encompassing every major star in Hollywood at the time. It was one of the last blockbuster films created by pulling out all the stops and allowing the motion picture industry to really flex its muscle before the advent of digital effects.

This is a special film due to its format. It is one of the few full length feature films that was shot in Cinerama. A technique that used three cameras to create a panoramic image that literally wrapped around the audience. It was so costly, both to shoot and to display, that it never caught on. The version that I watched is on Laserdisc which preserves the three screen effect, but even this version is slightly cropped. It may be impossible in this day and age to see this film in its true aspect ratio with a surround screen, which is a pity. For its visual merits alone, this film is worth seeing.

When shown on a flat screen, the picture appears somewhat compressed and looks almost as though the image is seen through a fish-eye lens. Because three large cameras were used to shot these films, there is minimal free camera movement and zooms, although there is a lot of tracking and dolly shots

More than anything else, this film deals with the soul of America and the concept that the world was ours to conquer. This is a theme that is somewhat politically incorrect these days. In this film, the world was vast, beautiful and rugged, with sweeping vistas, broad rivers and beautiful sunsets. Many of the scenes are down-right spectacular, and the ending shootout on the train still ranks as one of the greatest action sequences I have ever seen.

The story line and acting take a back seat to the overpowering concept of the land and the struggle to overcome its hardship. The film is a tour-de-force for Debbie Reynolds, who is the only star who is seen throughout the entire film. She is also featured in several musical numbers to showcase her singing talents. The score by Alfred Neauman is grandiose and almost religious in places, tinged with old west folk tunes. This is a three hour one sided history lesson for all the young folks that don't have time to sit and read about all the details of the great westward expansion.

Clicking on the Laserdisc cover below will download this film in Apple Quicktime format(m4v). File will be available through 8/1/08.

This film is a part of my LaserDisc Collection which can be viewed here.

Clicking on the "Essential Cinema" title will take you to the Internet Movie Database entry for this film.

Clicking here will take you to a listing of all the "Essential Cinema" reviews in my Blog.