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  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • Dual Layer ( )
  • English: Dolby Digital Stereo
  • French: Dolby Digital Stereo
    English, French, Spanish
  • Theatrical trailer - The Original Theatrical Trailer.
  • Behind the scenes footage - A behind-the-scenes documentary, running for 15:29.

How the West Was Won

Warner Bros./Warner Home Video . R4 . COLOR . 155 mins . G . NTSC


Often regarded as one of the most grandiose undertakings in Hollywood’s history, How The West Was Won has a huge cast, three directors and was presented in a format known as Cinerama. To get a good idea of what Cinerama is, think of what IMAX is today and you would be pretty close. Basically, just like with IMAX, there were special cinemas built for the presentation of Cinerama feature productions. The screen size was about half the height and width of today’s IMAX screens, but of course back in the mid 1950s and early 1960s that was absolutely gigantic.

There were three interlocked projectors which ran three different reels of film onto the large, curved screen. The three panelling system raised a serious problem when trying to transfer to VHS and DVD, but I will expand on that in the video quality section. The aspect ratio of the film when it was shown in these cinemas was 2.998:1.116, which equates to 2.88:1. Cinerama was also similar to IMAX by the fact that it showed mostly only documentaries and travelogues. A total of six films were made for the Cinerama format, the best and most popular being this film.

Of course, no matter what the technologies used to create a film, if it doesn’t have a good plot, then it is a waste of time and money. The plot of this film is quite simple, but works well. Set in the early 19th century, it follows a family that has decided to move out from New York and head to the wild West. Unfortunately, the family runs into disaster on their journey and some of them are killed. Eve (Carroll Baker), one of the two daughters, decides to stay on the land with a mountain man, Linus Rawlings (James Stewart). Her sister, Lillith (Debbie Reynolds), becomes a singer, and learns that she has become the sole owner of a lucrative gold mine in California. A stranger (Gregory Peck) overhears this news, and travels West with her in an attempt to swindle Lillith.

The scope of the film is enormous, starting with the early mid-West pioneering days, and including the California gold rush, the Civil War, the construction of the transcontinental railroad, and finally how law and order was established in the far West.

One of the real drawcards of How The West Was Won is the stellar cast that was assembled for the project. The ever-brilliant Jimmy Stewart, Gregory Peck, John Wayne, Henry Fonda, and Lee J. Cobb just to name a few. Most give very good performances, and it is interesting to see how James Stewart performs as a rugged mountain man as, even though he had starred in a couple of other Westerns (most notably The Naked Spur), this role isn’t really in his comfort zone. Regardless, like the legend that he is he delivers a great performance opposite Debbie Reynolds.


Once again, this is a region 4 NTSC formatted disc, so if your system doesn’t support NTSC, forget about this title.

The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, but is not 16x9 enhanced.

There are several major problems with this transfer, though most stem from the Cinerama process in which it was filmed. Firstly, there are two very noticeable vertical lines running from the top to the bottom of the video. The first is located about one third of the way across the display, and the second is about two thirds of the way across. These lines are where the three different reels of film are joined, and they are very distracting and irritating.

The second problem is also caused by the Cinerama process. There is a distinct and noticeable difference in the colours between the three panels. Often one is brighter or darker than the others, and it is rare for all three to match at the same time.

Thirdly, due to the three panels not being flat, but rather the outside two being curved out towards the audience, another problem is that the three panels seem to bulge out. Again, this is constantly distracting.

There are bursts of grain and film artefacts all through the transfer, which is disappointing. The video lacks vertical stability in some scenes, and jumps around the screen a little bit. Aside from all the problems, there are a few pluses. The colours in general are reasonably vibrant, and shadow detail isn’t bad. The video is nice and sharp in most scenes also.

The disc is single sided and dual layered. The layer change is well placed at the end of the intermission, and is hardly even noticeable. There are three sets of subtitles available; English, French and Spanish. I viewed the English ones and they were accurate and unabridged for the most part.


There are two soundtracks available on this disc: English and French, both in Dolby Digital 2.0.

Like the video transfer, the audio is not of a high standard. The dialogue mixing is quite poor. It is at times very hard or essentially impossible to understand, and can be drowned out by the score or action sequences. I found myself watching it most of the time with subtitles so I didn’t have to keep reversing it because I missed some dialogue. Very annoying.

Speaking of the score, it suits the theme of the film very well and is used often throughout. Ken Darby and Alfred Newman are responsible for the majority of it, but it is a pity that the dialogue was not mixed better with regards to the score often overwhelming it.


There are but two extras included on the disc, and they are:

Theatrical Trailer - Running for 3:06, this is shot in the same format as the film, and is more of an introduction of the large cast than anything else.

The Making of How The West Was Won - Presented in full frame and running for 15:29, this is quite an informative behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of the film. Half of its length is devoted to a narrative from a stunt man working on the movie, Loren Janes.


If you are interested in the history of cinema, then it is important that you see this film. The price of the production inspired many of the huge budget movies that we see today. Everything about this is large; the filming format, the score, the cast, and the scope of the subject matter. It has been described as almost as much of a documentary as it is a drama, and I think that befits it well. Though this transfer does not do justice to the importance of the film, it is still a worthwhile viewing experience, especially if you have only seen it in the very chopped down almost full frame version.

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      And I quote...
    "With one of the best casts ever assembled in Hollywood, How The West Was Won was one of the largest experiments in moviemaking history."
    - Robert Mack
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Sony DVP-NS300
    • TV:
          Sony 68cm
    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-DE475
    • Speakers:
    • Centre Speaker:
    • Surrounds:
    • Subwoofer:
          Sony Active Superwoofer
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          standard s-video
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