How the West Was Won (1963) - Rotten Tomatoes

How the West Was Won1963

How the West Was Won (1963)



Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

How the West Was Won Photos

Movie Info

Filmed in panoramic Cinerama, this star-studded, epic Western adventure is a true cinematic classic. Three legendary directors (Henry Hathaway, John Ford and George Marshall) combine their skills to tell the story of three families and their travels from the Erie Canal to California between 1839 and 1889. Spencer Tracy narrates the film, which cost an estimated $15 million to complete. Westward expansion shows scenes of the Indian's sorrow, the white man's greed, river pirates, outlaws, lawmen, and life and death on the Western plains. Dozens of marquee names worked with over 12,000 extras, 630 horses, hundreds of horse drawn wagons, and a stampede of 2,000 buffalo. The human cost of the concept of Manifest Destiny is revealed in all its colorful and violent glory. How the West Was Won garnered three Oscars, for screenplay, film editing, and sound production.

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Debbie Reynolds
as Lilith Prescott
George Peppard
as Zeb Rawlings
Carroll Baker
as Eve Prescott
James Stewart
as Linus Rawlings
Gregory Peck
as Cleve Van Valen
Richard Widmark
as Mike King
Henry Fonda
as Jethro Stuart
Robert Preston
as Roger Morgan
Karl Malden
as Zebulon Prescott
Thelma Ritter
as Agatha Clegg
Carolyn Jones
as Julie Rawlings
Agnes Moorehead
as Rebecca Prescott
Eli Wallach
as Charlie Gant
John Wayne
as General Sherman
Lee J. Cobb
as Lou Ramsey
Brigid Bazlen
as Dora Hawkins
Walter Brennan
as Col. Hawkins
David Brian
as Attorney
Andy Devine
as Cpl. Peterson
Raymond Massey
as Abraham Lincoln
Harry Morgan
as Gen. Ulysses S. Grant
Mickey Shaughnessy
as Deputy Marshall
Russ Tamblyn
as Reb Soldier
Tudor Owen
as Scotsman
Barry Harvey
as His Son
Jamie Ross
as His Son
Kim Charney
as Sam Prescott
Bryan Russell
as Zeke Prescott
Claude Johnson
as Jeremiah Rawlings
Jerry Holmes
as Railroad Clerk
Rodolfo Acosta
as Desperado
Ken Curtis
as Union Soldier
Clinton Sundberg
as Hylan Seabury
Walter Burke
as Gambler
Joe Sawyer
as Ship's Officer
John Larch
as Grimes
Jack Pennick
as Cpl. Murphy
Craig Duncan
as James Marshall
Gil Perkins
as Henchman
Paul Bryar
as Auctioneer's assistant
Kem Curtis
as Ben, Union Corporal
Walter Reed
as Union Soldier
Carleton Young
as Union Soldier
Karl Swenson
as Train conductor
Jack Lambert
as Gant henchman
Christopher Dark
as Poker player
Gene Roth
as Riverboat poker player
William Henry
as Staff Officer
Ken Dibbs
as Blacksmith
Red Perkins
as Union Soldier
Roy Jenson
as Henchman
Rodopho (Rudy) Acosta
as Gant gang member
Victor Romito
as Henchman
Harvey Parry
as Henchman
Harry Monty
as Uncredited
Beulah Archuletta
as Indian woman
Spencer Tracy
as Narrator
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Critic Reviews for How the West Was Won

All Critics (22) | Top Critics (6)

In all the gargantuousness, however there are redeemable moments, especially in Ford's oddly scaled Civil War episode.

November 20, 2017 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…

Here, then, is a film with apparently something for everyone. Certainly its team of four ace cameramen have provided a full quota of visual splendours and the rich colour definition in the long shots communicates an authentic thrill of pleasure.

June 18, 2012 | Full Review…

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.

August 26, 2008 | Full Review…

The main problem remains the impossibility of subjecting a film that is fundamentally about landscape and history to the demands of such a coarse dramatic form.

February 9, 2006 | Rating: 2.5/5 | Full Review…
Top Critic

It should be called "How the West Was Done-to Death."

May 9, 2005 | Full Review…
Top Critic

A buffalo stampede and a raft caught in some terrifying rapids did make their point to my more primitive nerve centers, but the rest was the old stuff directed and acted by the old-stuffers and on a level considerably below their best performances.

May 8, 2019 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for How the West Was Won


Pratically defining the word sprawling this phenomenal drama of the settling of the west is so much more than a conventional western. Directed by three top flight directors all three segments have a slightly different feel but join together into a harmonious whole. Again the phrase once in a lifetime cast could have been invented for this film with a star of some magnitude in almost every role, all of whom give good performances. The real standouts in terms of acting are probably George Peppard and Carroll Baker, they share a particularly poignant scene when he goes off to war, but Debbie Reynolds ties the whole thing together and she's full of snap and verve. The always welcome Thelma Ritter is a most amusing frontier woman. Shot on a massive scope this is enjoyable in any form but if you have the opportunity to see the Blu-Ray version on a large screen that's as near to ideal as you'll get. This film is what the movies are all about.

jay nixon
jay nixon

Super Reviewer


Any Western with this cast is worth a glimpse. Very interesting story of the American history on a grand scale. This movie in effect tells the fourth story - and tells it in a thrilling, colorful way - from the 1840s when the frontier was still the Ohio Valley to about 1885 - not so long a time. These stories brought two actors, Debbie Reynolds and George Peppard, in two of each stories. This is stunning - beautifully cast - music you'll always remember - and many powerful and moving scenes.

Dean McKenna
Dean McKenna

Super Reviewer

You have to hand it to everyone involved, this is one mammoth viewing experience. This covers generations as well as historical events like no other movie has attempted to do. I think the wisest decision was having multiple directors so each time period has a different feeling and vision. With a huge western ensemble, this is no short of fun to watch. Most of the known actors play some of their suited roles and serve as a time frame for the genre itself. What's interesting is that the segments get richer and more defined as they go along, rather than decrease in quality. Now this isn't a character movie in a traditional way, I don't even think there is a close up shot at all. However, this shows the progression of the west from a dream to a reality.

Conner Rainwater
Conner Rainwater

Super Reviewer

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