Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Next Stop Mainstream City

How the West Was Won (1963, Warners, $20.98, 3 discs, 162 minutes)Made for a then huge 15 million, divided into 5 segments, helmed by 3 directors (Henry Hathaway, George Marshall, and the estimable John Ford) peopled by a passel of big names (James Stewart, Debbie Reynolds, John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Richard Widmark, Gregory Peck) and a too cool array of character names (Eli Wallach, Thelma Ritter, Harry Morgan, Robert Preston, Karl Malden, Carrol Baker, Walter Brennan) this 1963 epic western was also filmed with a 3 lens Cinerama camera and originally had to be projected by 3 projectors running simultaneously. Somehow I saw this with my parents and brother in the family station wagon at the Westerly, RI Drive-In the summer of, I’m guessing ’64, and I, a fanatic western bluff, was blown away by its splendor while being a little annoyed by its lack of traditional mano a’ mano gunfire. Years later its vistas still remain purty spectacular and Stewart and Reynolds acquit themselves decently while most of the rest of the featured acting is wooden (George Peppard Alert!) and the narrative pure swiss cheese with even Ford’s sequence (“The Civil War”) doesn’t pack the director’s typical majesty or sweep. As mainstream Hollywood studio product goes this remains more of a project than a fully rounded movie yet it goes down good with the popcorn.


mdoggie said...

From the aforementioned brother:

I don't know why I would remember this event so clearly but yeah, I do remember the station wagon at the Westerly Drive-in. Maybe because the movie was so unusually long? I guess I must have been a pretty sophisticated kid to be engaged by the majestic cinematography 'cause I have seen it since and recall it as a stunning slow-poke of a western.
If it was in 1964, I was all of seven, yet I think I remember a traveling shot of up a mountainside opening one of the sequences?

Scotty D said...

There is indeed a sequence that begins with mountainside vista as stiff boy Peppard moseys up to see mountain man Henry Fonda, the other big moments are a civil war battle, a rapids sequence, and indian chase of the wagon train, and a strange (and extremely tacky) final shot where the cinerama cameras pull back from the great frontier to turn into the car filled freeways of L.A, which I guess makes it the new frontier?