Monday, September 15, 2008

"How the West Was Won" on Blu Ray DVD ***** (UPDATED)

Last June when I bought my Blu Ray DVD player (Playstation 3) I bought it so I could watch this movie on Blu Ray DVD when it was released last week. I ordered it from and it arrived on Friday and I watched it Sunday and it was well worth the wait. It looks great! I have had a long love affair with this movie.

The following is the Internet Movie Data Base summary of the movie for those disadvantaged folks who have never seen this 1962 movie filmed in Cinerama!

Sprawling epic which follows the Prescotts, an emigrant family through four generations, from the Erie Canal in the 1830's to their settled home in the West a half a century later. On the way they encounter river pirates, and escape with the help of fur trapper Linus Rawlings (James Stewart), who subsequently marries one of their daughters, Eve (Carroll Baker). The parents are drowned on a foundering raft, and the other daughter Lilith (Debbie Reynolds) becomes a riverboat singer and catches the eye of a genteel adventurer Cleve Van Valen (Gregory Peck). They cross the plains together in a wagon train and make and lose a fortune in California; meanwhile Linus has turned farmer and, comes the Civil War, joins the Union Army and is killed at the Battle of Shiloh. One of his sons Zeb (George Peppard) also joins the army and stays after the war as a cavalry officer and is sent to Colorado to help guard the pioneering railroad against the Indians, whose land they are crossing. By this time Lilith is the elderly lady of the family, having survived long enough to see the dream of settlement realized,.....

I first saw the movie in 1962 or 1963 while a teenager and fell in love with the movie. In those days there was no video for home showing on VHS much less DVD so I bought the sound track record album. One of the best parts of the movie was the music and Debbie Reynolds singing "Home in the Meadow." The Theme music to the movie has become a western classic. I played that record over and over and later bought the cassette tape on a family vacation in Tuscon and Old Tuscon. We played it a lot on family trips and our Kids know it well. About a year ago I got the soundtrack on CD.

Seeing the movie again presented problems. When I was in the Army stationed near Colorado Springs in 1970/1971 the movie was re released and shown at a theater at the famous Broadmore Hotel. I went and was disappointed by the picture quality. The movie was filmed in Cinerama which meant it had three panels for a curved screen. When shown on a traditional flat screen the three panels stood out with two distinct lines separating the three panels filmed by three cameras.The movie looked terrible on TV. The same problem presented it's self when I bought the two VHS tape set in the 1980's. When DVD finally was introduced I hoped that the problem had been solved but again was disappointed when I purchased the DVD early in this decade. Well, the Blu Ray DVD release of this movie has corrected the problem and you get a great clear detailed picture with out the two lines separating the three panels. With the magic of electronics they have eliminated the lines in all but a very few scenes.The movie has not looked better since 1962!
The Blu Ray edition even has an option so you can recreate the effect of the Cinerama curved screen.

The movie was directed by three directors and my favorite is the Civil War section directed by John Ford.I still get a lump in my throat when a young George Peppard says goodbye to his mother, Carroll Baker, as he goes off to war. We also see a cameo of John Wayne as General William Tecumseh Sherman and Raymond Massey as Abraham Lincoln. Pappard returns home to the music "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" in a bitter sweet scene that tugs at your heart!

The movie has everything.... rafts on whitewater, buffalo stampedes, an Indian attack on a wagon train, a shoot out on a train and of course the Civil War. Who can ever forget the singing of Debbie Reynolds when she leads the wagon train members, camped for the night, in a rousing singing and dancing sequence to get them out of their doldrums.Spencer Tracy also adds perspective and gravity in several "voice overs" that tie together this episodic movie.

I love westerns and this was probably in 1962 one of the last few westerns that took a positive view of the American West and America. After "How the West Was Won" Hollywood started releasing movies that emphasise the closing of the west and violent western movies that made hero's out of villains and outlaws.

Well done!

(Click on title for a link to more info on the blu ray movie with lots of pictures from this new addition)