It would be hard to imagine a subject which lends itself more strikingly to the wide-screen process than this yarn of the pioneers who opened the American West. It’s a story [suggested by the series How the West Was Won in Life magazine] which naturally puts the spotlight on action and adventure, and the three directors between them have turned in some memorable sequences.
George Marshall [credited with the final segment, The Railroad] has the credit 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. Undoubtedly the highlight of Henry Hathaway’s contribution [The Rivers, the Plains, the Outlaws] is the chase of outlaws who attempt to hold up a train with a load of bullion. John Ford’s directorial stint [The Civil War] is limited to the Civil War sequences, and though that part does not contain such standout incident, there is the fullest evidence of his high professional standards.
The storyline is developed around the Prescott family, as they start on their adventurous journey out west. Karl Malden and Agnes Moorehead are the parents, and with them are their two daughters, played by Debbie Reynolds and Carroll Baker. They start their journey out West down the Erie Canal, and when James Stewart, a fur trapper, comes on the scene, it’s love at first sight for Baker.
Although they’ve headed in opposite directions, she eventually gets her man. After her parents lose their lives when their raft capsizes in the rapids – and that’s another of the highly vivid sequences directed by Hathaway – Reynolds joins a wagon train to continue her journey and tries, in vain, to resist the charms of Gregory Peck, a professional gambler, who is first attracted to her when she’s believed to have inherited a gold mine.
Peck gives a suave and polished gloss to his role of the gambler, and Stewart has some fine, if typical, moments in his scenes.
Richard Widmark makes a vital impression as the head man of the construction team building the railroad. John Wayne has a minor part as General Sherman, but he, too, makes the charactor stand out. Spencer Tracy is heard but not seen as the narrator.
1963: Best Original Story & Screenplay, Sound, Editing.
Nominations: Best Picture, Color Cinematography, Color Costume Design, Color Art Direction, Original Music Score