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Plot Details: This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Leaving Their Mark

How the West
Was Won

Plot Overview

“How the West Was Won” is a portmanteau chronicle of (White) man's western expansion across America in the 1800's (mostly.) Starting with the free-living mountain men in the Rockies, it moves to an eastern farmer in Rock­ville Town­ship, Stone County, who thinking his farm too rocky sets out with his Prescott family on the Erie Canal, transfers to a flatboat on the Ohio River, takes a wrong fork and flounders on the rocks. He's survived by his “twenty-year-old daughter what won't take to her­self a husband” and “another daughter who just don't seem quite right in the head” (Lilith with rocks in her head.)

Against all expectations Eve “Well, you sure set your cap in a hurry” (Carroll Baker) gets hitched to mountain-man Linus “I've been a great sinner” Rawlings (James Stewart), while her sister Lilith (Lily) Prescott (Debbie Reynolds) hops a steam­boat for greener pastures. Lily winds up a saloon dancer in St. Louis where a “sweet old goat” deeds her his gold mine in his will. So she hops a wagon train heading to California “draw[ing] men like fish to bait.” When she gets there, the pocket of gold is played out leaving nothing but rocks, so she falls back on her talents in the fledgling town of San Francisco.


The expansion of civilization is not only east to west, but also north–south. Abraham Lincoln is in his library deep in lucu­bration over an impending “house divided.” Linus enlists right away, and soon after so does his son Zeb Rawlings (George Peppard). It's a bloody Civil War that a lot of people don't survive. Zeb after­wards becomes a regular and helps protect the trans­contin­ental rail­road then under construction. Not liking the way the Indians are being mistreated, he quits and takes to wearing a badge to tame the land of its law­less­ness. As what's left of the family gets reunited, Zeb has one final train robbery to foil where a train full of gold is blocked by a rock solid barricade.

The movie ends with a twisting aerial shot of a concrete freeway inter­change and the narrator (Spencer Tracey) exclaiming how man left his indelible mark on the West.


Old Zebulon Prescott (Karl Malden) was “a God-fearin' soul” concerned (“Oh, Lord, we thank Thee”) “for our salvation” who dispatched “thy way some evil souls … whether you want them or not!” His two daughters are named after the Jewish-mythical wives of Adam: Lilith being unmanage­able and Eve being made from Adam's rib, more accept­able. Eve taken out of man was represented by a mountain-man's carving of two inter­linked hearts on a tree trunk. Lilith had her own plans that didn't include minding the kids on some rich man's ranch. Eve was instrumental in inspiring Linus to quit his wicked ways, as per (1Cor. 7:16) “For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband?” Their son Zeb was torn between Christian charity and fighting the Rebs, the two modes not mixing well, as per (2Cor. 6:14) “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” Lilith eventually lived long enough to become a family matriarch doting on her grand­children, living an exemplary Christian life, as per (1Tim. 2:15) “Not­with­standing she shall be saved in child­bearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.”

This movie is instructive about preliminary courtship moves: the way Eve stood close to the mountain-man and tilted her chin up to encourage him to kiss her, the way Lily joined couples together on the dance floor to get them to know each other. When Linus asked Eve exactly what it was she had in mind, she replied that it's not polite for a girl to say exactly. Linus was more accustomed to direct negotiation with a prostitute—see Prov. 22:14—, so he needed to learn manners. College campuses filled with independent Lilith's and too open to premarital sex are trying these days to curb the debauchery by instigating conduct codes for the sexual preliminaries that flout polite conventions in order to make negotiations more explicit, as with a prostitute, which codes I should think polite Christian girls or their advocates should oppose. Eve gave her dad “nothing to worry about” simply by not put­ting her­self in a compromising position.

Production Values

“How the West Was Won” (1962) is a portmanteau movie in five segments. Henry Hathaway directed "The Rivers", "The Plains", and "The Outlaws" segments. John Ford directed "The Civil War" section, and George Marshall did "The Railroad" part. Richard Thorpe (uncredited) was respon­sible for trans­itional histor­ical sequences. James R. Webb wrote the screen­play. It was suggested by the series, How the West Was Won, that appeared in “Life” magazine. It was narrated by Spencer Tracy, and it features - in alpha­betical order - Carroll Baker, Lee J. Cobb, Henry Fonda, Carolyn Jones, Karl Malden, Gregory Peck, George Peppard, Robert Preston, Debbie Reynolds, James Stewart, Eli Wallach, John Wayne and Richard Widmark and more talent besides. There was so much talent that none stood out unless it would be Reynolds with her flamboyant song and dance. Although it chronicled the mark of the White man on the country, the Negro's music was acknow­ledged in one place with a banjo.

MPAA rated it G in 1970. I saw it in wide­screen at a theater. It's listed with an aspect ratio: 2.89 : 1. It was originally shot in Cinerama to be displayed on sort of a wrap­around screen. That limited the move­ment of the cameras but did wonders for displaying the vistas and the action. I liked to have jumped out of my seat when I found myself in the middle of a Civil War battle­field. Other action sequences were also phenomenal. Cinema­tog­raphers William H. Daniels, Milton R. Krasner, Charles Lang Jr and Joseph LaShelle did a thumbs-up job. The musical score by Alfred Newman added credibility and enjoyment. It's 164 min. long.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

I recommend seeing this one on as wide a screen as you have access to, and with as good a sound system. Here's one that won't disappoint, although you may end up saying they don't make 'em like that anymore.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Edge of your seat action-packed fun. Special effects: Well done special effects. Video Occasion: Good for Groups. Suitability for children: Suitable for children, general audiences. Suspense: Several very suspenseful moments. Overall product rating: Five stars out of five.