How the West Was Won

1962 | Drama | 164 minutes | English


Set between 1839 and 1889, the film follows three generations of families (starting with the Prescotts) as they moved from western New York all the way to the Pacific. The film was fortunate to have three superb directors: John Ford, Henry Hathaway, and George Marshall. Between them, they directed five segments of the epic adventure: The Rivers (1839), The Plains (1851), The Civil War (1861-1865), The Railroad (1868), and The Outlaws (1889).  The film ends with the following Epilogue: The West was won by its pioneers, settlers, and  adventurers. Out of their crude settlements and their trading posts, came cities to rank among the great ones of the world. They contributed to the heritage of a people free to dream, free to act, free to mold their own destiny.  


THE RIVERS Segment: Karl Malden (Zebulon Prescott) / Agnes Moorhead (Rebecca Prescott) / James Stewart (Linus Rawlings) / Carroll Baker (Eve Prescott) / Debbie Reynolds (Lilith Prescott)

THE PLAINS Segment: Gregory Peck (Cleve Van Valen) / Robert Preston (Roger Morgan) / Thelma Ritter (Agatha Clegg)

THE CIVIL WAR Segment: / George Peppard (Zeb Rawlings) / Harry Morgan (Ulysses S. Grant) / John Wayne (General William Tecumseh Sherman) / Raymond Massey (President Abraham Lincoln)

THE RAILROAD Segment: Henry Fonda (Jethro Stuart) / Richard Widmark (Mike King)

THE OUTLAWS Segment: Lee J. Cobb (Marshal Lou Ramsey) / Eli Wallach (Charlie Gant) / Carolyn Jones (Julie Rawlings)

Why Stream This Film?
Despite nitpicking by a few film critics, this is an epic of  the highest order. And, every segment is fabulously entertaining. 
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score (Critics Consensus): 86%
  • Metacritic Score: 56
  • Academy Awards: Winner, Best Screenplay (James R. Webb); Best Sound (Franklin Milton); Best Film Editing (Harold Kress). Nominated: Best Film; Best Cinematography; Best Art Direction; Best Costume Design; Best Musical Score
  • National Board of Review, USA: Listed, Top Ten Films
  • The film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress as being  culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.
It would be hard to imagine a subject which lends itself more strikingly to the wide screen process than this yarn about the pioneers who opened the American West. It’s a story which naturally puts the spotlight on action and adventure, and the three directors between them have turned in some memorable sequences. Director George Marshall is credited for the buffalo stampede, started by the Indians when the railroad was moving out West.This magnificently directed sequence is as vivid as anything ever put on celluloid.


A blockbuster epic about three generations of Western pioneers has a great cast, first-rate photography, and a lovely Alfred Newman score. It all makes for top entertainment.

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