Wednesday, 25 January 2012

How the West was Won - special edition DVD

Warner DVD set
Region 2

This land has a name today, and is marked on maps. But, the names and the marks and the maps all had to be won, won from nature and from primitive man.
I love this film but, as per usual, the Region 2 release comes with much less than the US region 1 issue. With region 1 you get two versions of the film - the super new widescreen version, the original cinerama cut as well as a forty page booklet.

The region 2 version contains the new widescreen cut split across two discs as well as all the supplemental material on a third disc. But no cut of the original three panel Cinerama release.

Cinerama was a short lived process in which the action was shot on three cameras set up parallel to each other, this giving a wider screen area. The trouble was it was an expensive process and only a few cinemas existed that could show it in true cinerama which projected the image onto three curved screens via three separate projectors. The third disc in this set contains an interesting documentary that looks at the shoot in great detail and contains some excellent behind the scenes shots of the film's legendary stars. In fact How the West Was Won was one of only two movies ever made using this process.

Still the new widescreen cut means that the film has never looked better.

And what a cast list.
John Wayne, Henry Fonda, James Stewart, Debbie Reynolds.Gregory Peck, Karl Malden,Richard Widmark, Elli Wallach, Walter Brennan. Add to that galaxy of stars is Spencer Tracy doing the narration and a list of guest starts that would get top billing in most movies.

The film is split into sections and shows the fortunes of one family from the opening up of the west to the modern day. Indeed the final shot shows an American landscape transformed with miles upon miles of concrete roads with cars tearing across land that once carried wagons and horses. At the time the shot was intended to show how far Americans had come but these days the shot looks rather sad. In the modern age of global warming it shows how much of the landscape has been destroyed in the name of progress.

Each segment of the film has a different director - Henry Hathaway, John Ford and George Marshall with the Mountain Men and Civil War sequences particularly standing out.

The new DVD cut where computers have removed the cinerama effect and created a true widescreen image containing the full screen image is without doubt the best cut of the film available - but it would have been nice to have the original cinerama cut - though with cinerama the three dividing lines were visible (look at the Civil War image above) and from a distance actors faces became unfocused. The other pictures above are from the widescreen cut and from the vista behind James Stewart is is evident how good this cut is.

Some critics have called the film disjointed, the result of so many directors, but all the same it is a truly classic western and at 162 minutes is epic in every sense of the world. I'm glad this film is finally available on DVD and even without the original cinerama version it takes pride of place in my collection.

TRVIA :Stuntman Bob Morgan was seriously injured, and almost died, while performing a stunt in this picture. Toward the end of the film, there is a gunfight on a moving train between the sheriff and a gang of train robbers. Morgan was one of the stuntmen playing a robber and was crouched next to a pile of logs on a flatcar. The chains holding the logs together snapped, and Morgan was crushed by the falling logs. He was so badly hurt it took him five years to recover to the point where he was able to move by himself and walk unaided.

Plot holes: There is no explanation of why Sheriff Ramsey is fine in one scene and wearing a bandage on his forehead in the next, immediately following. (there was a deleted or unfilmed scene where Zeb knocked Ramsey out when the Sheriff tried to stop him from going after the train robbers).

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