How The West Was Won (1962/MGM/Warner Blu-ray)
B+ Sound: B+ Extras: B Film: B-
widescreen filmmaking took hold in the 1950s, it was both a big boost and final
hurrah for the Western. By then, key
Westerns had been made in the earlier part of the decade like Broken Arrow, High Noon, Winchester 73
and Johnny Guitar. Cinerama was a three-camera format that
projected a single image and revolutionized the film industry, finally reaching
even TV as it transforms into HDTV.
After some very successful select subjects, a few epic feature films
were attempted in the format and the few attempted that used the three-camera
machine to shoot the film were co-produced by MGM. Their 1962 hit How The West Was Won was the peak of this production and of
four directors and an epic journey into the forging of The United States (no
matter how inaccurate) the film wanted to be a modern Birth of a Nation (1915) though no one dares to make that
connection and this is the studio that made Gone With The Wind (1939) so the film has five sub-stories tied
into the larger epic presented and in its time was a winner. Unless you can see it in its grandest
presentation, it is hard to appreciate that its visuals are as important as its
script, as that can be weak. It also has
an all-star cast that is a plus telling the tale through several generations of
family; one Ron Howard screened before shooting his 70mm epic Far & Away in 1992.
162 minutes, the film has an uneven narrative and being shot in two large-frame
formats, it is a bright, colorful cinematic experience that does (sometimes in
unintentionally funny ways) try to put you in the picture to feel the
experience as if you were out in the wild, untamed west. The ambition, energy and spirit of doing that
is one of the reasons why the film holds up as well as it does today and other
films (like Cinerama Corporation’s 1971 production The Last Valley in Todd-AO 70mm) would duplicate. Lawrence
of Arabia would upstage the film, but it had advantages over even that
David Lean classic in the even wider frame and all-out sprawling scenery. Yes, it was from a Classical Hollywood system
at a new peak of ambition.
you an idea of the star power and how it helped this film, the cast includes no
less than James Stewart, John Wayne, Carroll Baker, Lee J. Cobb, Henry Fonda,
Carolyn Jones, Karl Malden, Gregory Peck, Debbie Reynolds, George Peppard,
Robert Preston, Eli Wallach, Richard Widmark, Agnes Moorehead, Raymond Massey,
Thelma Ritter, Russ Tamblyn, Harry Morgan, Andy Devine, Walter Brennan,
uncredited turns by Harry Dean Stanton, Cliff Osmond, Lee Van Cleef, Karl
Swenson and narration by Spencer Tracy.
All looking and even sounding as good as they ever have or ever would in
makes this a must-own film, but for years, it never really could be seen in a
way that was the equal of the best film prints.
Turner Entertainment and people who love the film outside of that entity
did what they could to save and preserve the film, with a real dye-transfer
Technicolor print surviving in the hands of a private collector! Warner Bros. owns the Turner films and that
includes all MGM’s to 1985, so they decided to fix the film up with digital
technology. The idea was to eliminate
the lines that happen from the overlap of the three projects going at once.
most part they succeeded from what we can see here, though a competing system
called Cinemiracle found a way to project without the lines showing, but the
Cinerama people bought it out and never upgraded. Because shooting in 3 cameras was so
expensive, MGM and company shot in both the 35mm 6-perferation times three
Cinerama system (the best-looking shots) and MGM Camera 65/Ultra Panavision
70mm. Films like the 1962 Mutiny On The Bounty (also MGM) and Battle Of The Bulge (1965) were shot
totally in the later, often dubbed “Cinerama with one lens” and both have
already been issued in HD-DVD, as these links will show:
Mutiny On The Bounty
Battle Of The Bulge
you can read more about MGM Camera 65/Ultra Panavision 70mm and both are coming
to Blu-ray if they are not already there.
In any event, that means the material the version on this new Blu-ray
offers would/could include 70mm without lines, 70mm reduction material with
lines from the Cinerama shoot, three strips of 6-perferation 35mm to make the
widescreen image and that could be anything from any surviving camera negative,
to dupe materials, to surviving prints in all formats and some regular 70mm
reissue prints were also made. The
result is a decent approximation of how this would play and only Blu-ray can
finally deliver an idea of how great this is on film.
widescreen digital High Definition versions are included here at the widest
2.89 X 1 aspect ratio. Blu One has a
straight widescreen version with solid straight bars at the top and bottom of
the image, but Blu Two has what would first seem like a novelty version in
Smilebox shape that is what it would look like when projected on the curved
Cinerama screen. We had seen similar
(but limited) such footage before when Fox restored The King & I (on DVD and hopefully soon on Blu-ray) in prints
that would take advantage of the curved screen.
Cinerama was maybe even more curved, but did not need a curved
print. It would just project that in how
the format was set up. It should be
noted that the screen was made of strips and was not a solid screen, or too
much light would have reflected back at the audience and they would not have
been able to see anything.
really good, though even this HD format has its limits, but I have to admit as
odd as this sounds, the Smilebox version actually shows more of the depth,
fidelity, detail and definition of the film and for those who can curve their
screens at home, will likely find this truer to the original experience. Either way, Warner has included both options
and saved this film nicely. Color is
very good and Technicolor could dye-transfer each strip, then you would see it
interlocked into one image, but some prints were EastmanColor/MetroColor and
many such prints have since faded away forever.
However, between the 6-perf of the 35mm and anamorphic wide frame on
70mm of the MGM Camera 65/Ultra Panavision 70mm shooting, the color is on a
higher level here than it would be if just a regular 35mm shoot and that makes
so many of these shots in both widescreen versions demo material.
has been upgraded to a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix, while the 35mm reduction prints
had 4-track magnetic stereo, 70mm reissue prints 6-channel magnetic stereo (in
the Todd-AO configuration where 5 of the speakers were behind the screen) and
Cinerama presentation in 7-track sound. The
sound is towards the front except when it kicks in, which is not all the time,
while the narration and voices can sound more compressed than they should for a
film even its age. Alfred Newman’s score
is a plus and sounds as good as anything in this upgraded mix. Hope I get to compare it to a 7-channel
actual Cinerama presentation some day soon.
a booklet built into the Blu-ray case similar to what Warner did with their
Blu-ray and HD-DVD editions of Bonnie
& Clyde, plus Blu One includes the original theatrical trailer,
extensive audio commentary track (including Filmmaker David Strohmaier,
Director of Cinerama Inc. John Sittig, Film Historian Rudy Behlmer, Music
Historian John Burlington and Stuntman Loren Adams) and a terrific, outstanding,
must-see documentary Cinerama Adventure
(2002) by Strohmaier about the rise and fall of the format that is long overdue
for release on home video. The only
thing missing is a featurette about how this film was saved and fixed, but
Warner could mix that in with the other MGM Cinerama feature The Wonderful World Of The Brothers Grimm
(also 1962) when they get around to giving that film the same treatment they
gave this. Until then, How The West Was Won is a great back
catalog release that is a must-see for any serious Blu-ray collection.
- Nicholas Sheffo