How The West Was One Henry Hathaway, John Ford and George Marshall

How The West Was One Henry Hathaway, John Ford and George Marshall
How the West Was Won has a reputation for being impossibly dull. But the film’s not impossible, just predictable. Collect this many inappropriately cast big stars, lob them at a mishmash of American mythology and patriotic sentiment, and hire three directors to ensure there’s no sense of unity, and you get what you pay for: expensive tedium and Oscar nominations. This is a family saga that stretches decades — from early settling and a ridiculous segment with Jimmy Stewart as a kindly mountain man to riverboat gambling and Gregory Peck to the civil war to the reconstruction to gun slinging and on and on. The film is shameless in its manipulations without being particularly good at them, with the most obnoxious super-patriot helpless to do anything but admit that the film is a cash-grab aimed at square people who value budget over quality. The actors sort of mill about looking embarrassed, with the casting of Carroll Baker and Debbie Reynolds as sisters saying it all for the credibility of the production. Made in the uber-widescreen Cinerama format, it’s sure big and brassy, if you like that sort of thing, but it’s also so heavy and clumsy that you can’t get much pleasure out of that. Still, it follows the same formula as countless boring road show productions and is totally undistinguished in its lazy aesthetics — the latter-day backlash can be attributed to the fact that any film with a title that definitive is bound to set people up. Extras include an expert commentary with various scholars, mostly interested in the vagaries of the three-camera Cinerama set-up, and a very good feature-length documentary detailing the obsessive perfectionism that went into making that widescreen process. (Ground Control)