(director: John Ford/Henry Hathaway/George Marshall; screenwriter: James R. Webb; cinematographers: Milton R. Krasner/William H. Daniels/Joseph LaShelle/Charles Lang; editor: Harold F. Kress; music: Alfred Newman; cast: Carroll Baker (Eve Prescott), Henry Fonda (Jethro Stuart), Gregory Peck (Cleve Van Valen), George Peppard (Zeb Rawlings), Carolyn Jones (Julie Rawlings), Eli Wallach (Charlie Gant), Robert Preston (Roger Morgan), Debbie Reynolds (Lilith Prescott), James Stewart (Linus Rawlings), John Wayne (General Sherman), Richard Widmark (Mike, King), Lee J. Cobb (Marshal), Karl Malden (Zebulon Prescott), Harry Morgan (General U.S. Grant), Spencer Tracy (Narrator); Runtime: 162; MPAA Rating: G; producer: Bernard Smith; MGM; 1962)

“Watching it at home without the three-strip Cinerama process takes most of the sparkle out of the film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The first film in Cinerama. Watching it at home without the three-strip Cinerama process takes most of the sparkle out of the film. It’s a sprawling epic with an all-star cast that follows the development of the West through one pioneering New England family of Zebulon Prescott, who in 1839 leave from the Erie Canal to go West to start a new farm in Ohio. It follows Zebulon Prescott’s children and grandchildren for the next fifty years in their western adventures, some reaching California. Spencer Tracy is the narrator. John Ford, Henry Hathaway, and George Marshall do the directing honors, each handling individual episodes. Hathaway does a nice job in his three sequences (“The River”, “The Plains,” and “The Outlaws”). He tells of the adventure of America’s westward expansion. Ford’s fifteen-minute sequence on the Civil War is the highlight of the film. It tells the tale of a coming-of-age farm boy (George Peppard) saving General U.S. Grant from a Confederate assassination attempt during the Battle of Shiloh. The rest of the film is unbearably dull and muddled, doing more for getting at the landscape and its numerous genial pioneering tunes than nailing it down in dramatics. Marshall directed the sequence entitled “The Railroads,” as a dispute develops over whether to cut through Indian Territory to expand the railroad as the bosses wish.

The top grossing film of 1962 won Oscars for screenplay (James R. Webb), film editing (Harold F. Kress), and sound production (Franklin E. Milton).