H is for How the West Was Won, a wonderful film from 1962. I was surprised that I really enjoyed this film. It is long, 2 hours and 44 minutes, and it being in full color helped. It has a musical overture at the beginning to help set the tone for the movie; the old intermission about halfway through called an Entr’acte that used to be used in movies so that theatergoers could get up and go to the bathroom and buy some popcorn; and exit music as the movie comes to an end. This sweeping epic is set between 1839 and 1889 across four generations of the Prescott family.
I have always loved the West, beginning when I was a little girl on family vacations that led us over the Mississippi River to the majestic mountains that Wisconsin does not have. I share the wanderlust of those early settlers, preferring the open spaces to the crowded East, which may be why I liked these stories so much.
There was music, great storytelling and many famous actors in this tale of the American West. Somewhat romanticized, it gave a picture of the Prescott family on their journey west, through the Civil War years, and the aging of the family. The Prescott’s are the ones who tie the ends of the story together.
The saga begins when Zebulon Prescott (Karl Malden) and his wife Rebecca (Agnes Moorehead) get set to travel west with their two beautiful daughters, Eve (Carole Baker), and Lilith, aka Lily (Debbie Reynolds). Due to unkind circumstances on the voyage, the two sisters must find their own way in life. Marriage being a primary goal for young women at the time, Eve has her sights on Linus Rawlings (James Stewart), a frontiersman, and Lily, who is a singer and dancer, on the suave gambler Cleve Van Valen (Gregory Peck).
Dangers are everywhere, including rapids on the rivers, thieves, and Indians disgusted with the white man. I particularly liked the part of the film where the Arapahoe give those railroaders something to think about.
It is a sweeping epic with three directors for five distinct sections of the movie. John Ford directed The Civil War, Henry Hathaway directed The Rivers, The Plains, The Outlaws, and George Marshall, The Railroad. There is some narration spoken by Spencer Tracy, and many cameos by famous actors, including John Wayne and Henry Fonda.
The film won Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards, as well as Best Sound and Best Film Editing. For its time, I think it was a good film, establishing what settlers heading West encountered as they searched out new lives and lands for themselves. There’s great singing and dancing, especially by Debbie Reynolds, and a little humor here and there amongst the inevitable tragedies that occurred along the way. My husband and I really enjoyed How the West Was Won. The time flew by, and I never tired of the story of these brave settlers traveling toward their dreams.