DIRECTORS: John Ford, Henry Hathaway & George Marshall
May Contain Spoilers!
How The West Won was the first of only two narrative feature films to be filmed in the Cumbersome 3-Strip Cinerama process, the other being The Wonderful Worlds Of The Brothers Grimm, a rarity in its complete form these days. Three director’s were brought on to tackle this epic subject at a time when going to cinema was all about pure escapism and the massive curved screen format of Cinerama, only helped to take the audience away from their humdrum lives and to vast locations around the globe.
IMAX has taken up where Cinerama left off, but the motives of this film are inextricably linked to its success of failures. Overall, the film is decent. It’s not brilliant but as long as you go along with its motivations it can be an enjoyable experience. And that’s the point. This isn’t a master-stroke as where the screenplay is concerned, but it is functional and does what it is supposed to do.
And that is to bring together almost every Hollywood star imaginable and place him or her, in front of a Cinerama camera and tell a contrived story which spans The West from the early days of the pioneers to The Wild West of the post civil war. The set pieces are stunning, though the cinematography is hampered by the camera’s bulk and limitations. For example, with Cinerama being about scale and peripheral vision, the cameras were not able to zoom in too close, leaving everything in wide-angle.
This takes away any sense of intimacy with our characters but it does suit the cameo laden film. This is not about the people, they are merely players and the world, as perceived by Cinerama’s three lenses, is the truly the stage. This is a contrivance to move the format on from its Travelogues of the 1950’s. But it works pretty well. This is an example of cinema trying something new and working hard to make it work.
But in the end, they couldn’t. It would lead to both Widescreen and Imax in various ways and after these two features, Cinerama would move towards a single 70mm strip of film, but How The West Was Won was the best of the era’s attempts to wow the audience with spectacle. As a Western it was above average and as a visual epic it very good, in spite of the technical limitations. But it features scenes of buffalo stampedes, train robberies and white water rafting to name but a few set pieces which are truly dizzying and stunning to watch.
But when all’s said and done, this was an epic attempt to fully realise the doomed format and it was relentlessly contrived to do so. The score was also standout for this western, certainly one of the best with the legendary Alfred Newman out doing himself again.
The Smilebox version of the film, which simulates the screen’s curvature was first-rate and along with the brilliant quality of the transfer, minus the vertical lines, and the crisp clear sound makes this a pleasure to watch.