HOW THE WEST WAS WON
(this article appeared in Arizona Highways magazine, November 1963)
The winning of the West, one of the most colorful chapters in the American saga, has been told and retold, and yet the telling never grows old. Countless of learned scholars have ground out countless of volumes of fact on the subject and still more countless of storytellers have ground out still more countless of volumes of fiction telling and retelling the romantic tale. If all the books ever written on the story of America's West were put into one library it would be a very, very big library indeed.
The story has been told in song and ballad all the way from opera (Girl of the Golden West) to the corniest of hoe-downs. Probably some of the whistlingest tunes you know carry a Western theme.
The American West has been a standby for motion picture makers almost since the Silver Screen came into being. Cherished memories from our own youth revolve around names like William S. Hart and Tom Mix, and their wonderful shoot-em-ups.
And now the magic makers of Hollywood have come up with a classic that truly merits the time-worn adjectives "colossal" and "stupendous" in the MetroGoldwyn-Mayer Cinerama production How The West Was Won.
The word "Cinerama" is probably old hat to many of our readers living in the larger cities in this country and in Europe but to us in Arizona it is comparatively new. The last we heard there were only fifty-two Cinerama Theatres in this country and twenty-six abroad; so we know that Cinerama will eventually be a new experience to many of our readers living in less populous parts of this planet.
But what is "Cinerama?"
Cinerama is a means of talking, recording, and projecting pictures so that the audience feels it is actually participating in the action of the film itself.
The Cinerama camera has three lenses which take three pictures at the same time. These combined pictures cover the area that would be seen at one time by the human eye. The camera's viewing field is 146 degrees horizontally and 55 feet vertically.
Cinerama lens in touching closeup
The Cinerama sound system has seven tracks which make it possible to follow the action closely with the ears as well as with the eyes.
In the theatre, three projectors throw the film on an ingenious curved louvered screen. Specially designed loudspeakers bring the sound realistically to the audience.
Comparative projection systems
It took the late Fred Waller, the inventor, fifteen years to perfect the Cinerama camera. To match its visual realism, Hazard Reeves Laboratories produced a seven-track, seven-channel sound system.
The first production, This Is Cinerama, opened in New York on September 30, 1952. Since that time, Cinerama Holiday and other successful features have been made. Early last year, the first dramatic story to be filmed in Cinerama, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, opened in New York City. How The West Was Won is the second story to be filmed in this medium.
During recent years, several improvements have been made. The screens on which the films are projected have been enlarged. The original Cinerama screen measured 1,700 square feet. Today the screens are from 3,000 to 5,000 square feet in area. The seven-channel sound system has been transistorized, and projection and printing techniques have been improved.
Cinerama official checking a scene in the film
How The West Was Won opened at Kachina Cinerama Theatre in Scottsdale, Arizona, in August of this year. We predict it will be running there well beyond August of 1964. And there's a reason for this prediction. We quote film critic Bernard Charman, writing in The Film Daily after How The West Was Won opened in London last year:
"If the screen has ever presented anything greater in the way of sheer, overwhelming entertainment impact than M-G-M's Cinerama western to end all westerns, it would need a very long memory to recall it. The lusty family saga of the pioneer days, with its endless array of stars, would be a great show in any projection system; on the vast curved screen it literally hurls itself at the viewer, its violent action, compelling spectacle and thunderous sound building up to irresistible effect. It is nothing short of fabulous. There seems no reason why, in the key cities, it should not be earning coin for many a year.
Cinerama crew filming exciting chase
"Pouring out the excitement for 2¾ hours, it needs its intermission to give the audience a breather. Many of the scenes make such a tremendous assault on the nervous system that, at the halfway stage, the viewer will be prone to murmur, for this relief, much thanks!' But it is a relief that leaves him eager for more, which, in the second stanza, he gets in full measure.
"The story consists of five distinct episodes cleverly held by a single thread - the saga of a pioneering family which sets off down the Ohio River in the 1830's. There are two daughters, one of whom marries a trapper and settles down to farming, while the other finds her way to St. Louis, marries a gambler and eventually settles down to high life in San Francisco. The death of the first sister and the adventures of her son, first as a soldier in the Civil War, then as a frontier officer in the U. S. Cavalry and finally as a marshal in the rough, tough West carry the action through a span of 60 years.
Director Hathaway watching emotional farewell
"Highlighting the first episode is a sensational trip on a runaway raft through the rapids, and a sequence involving a gory bout of general mayhem against a vicious gang of riverside jackals. The second section is covered wagon stuff, in which gorgeous shots of rolling prairies contrast with a battle against Indians and lusty gaieties in western saloons. Then follows a quadrant set during the Civil War, in which the battles themselves are the action highlights. The final episodes work up via a terrifying buffalo stampede to an incredible train robbery in which the production pulls every trick out of the bag to leave the viewer breathless.
"The whole is assembled uncompromisingly and with great gusto. The hands of three great outdoor directors, Henry Hathaway, John Ford and George Marshall, are clearly apparent, and the Cinerama cameras are deployed to the maximum advantage. There are strong-blooded performances from James Stewart, Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck, Robert Preston and Richard Widmark. The gals, notably Carroll Baker and Debbie Reynolds, are spirited, pretty and every bit as impressive as the guys.
Director Hathaway and Actress Reynolds discuss scene
Heroine Reynolds as an old lady
"Cast: Carroll Baker, Lee I. Cobb, Henry Fonda, Carolyn Jones, Karl Malden, Gregory Peck, George Peppard, Robert Preston, Debbie Reynolds, James Stewart, Eli Wallach, John Wayne, Richard Widmark, Brigid Bazlen, Walter Brennan, David Brian, Andy Devine, Raymond Massey, Agnes Moorehead, Henry Morgan, Thelma Ritter, Mickey Shaughnessy, Russ Tamblyn."
Eli Wallach and his gang talk to George Peppard
We first heard about the motion picture, How The West Was Won, two years ago when a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer location crew, led by the distinguished director, Henry Hathaway, visited the offices of ARIZONA HIGHWAYS. One of the group carried an armload of badly earmarked copies of our magazine each stamped "Property of M-G-M Research Library: Do Not Remove."
"Through Monument Valley"
Mr. Hathaway and his associates were combing Arizona for locations for the Cinerama classic and they eventually found them: Magma Railroad (ARIZONA HIGHWAYS, September, 1959); Oatman, Ghost Town (ARIZONA HIGHWAYS, August, 1960); Railroad Station (ARIZONA HIGHWAYS, June, 1949); and Monument Valley. We are proud to know that Arizona has contributed some of the most memorable scenes to a motion picture full of memorable scenes. In every way How The West Was Won is a triumph in entertainment.
(NOTE: only about half of the photos were included from this article.)
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