Seminal Cinema Outfit

Classic, Foreign and Rare Film



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Film notes on Quiz Show

Quiz Show is a 1994 American historical drama film produced and directed by Robert Redford, and written by Paul Attanasio, based on Richard N. Goodwin‘s memoirRemembering America: A Voice From the Sixties. It stars John Turturro, Rob Morrow, and Ralph Fiennes, with Paul Scofield, David Paymer, Hank Azaria, and Christopher McDonald appearing in supporting roles.[3][4]

The film chronicles the Twenty One quiz show scandals of the 1950s, the rise and fall of popular contestant Charles Van Doren after the rigged loss of Herb Stempel, and Congressional investigator Richard Goodwin’s subsequent probe. Goodwin co-produced the film.



From a secure bank vault, the answers to the questions on Twenty One, a popular television quiz show, are sent into a television studio as studio producers Dan Enright(David Paymer) and Albert Freedman (Hank Azaria) watch from the control booth. The evening’s main attraction is Queens resident Herb Stempel (John Turturro), the reigning champion, who answers question after question. However, both the network, NBC, and the corporate sponsor of the program, a supplementary tonic called Geritol, find that Stempel’s approval ratings are beginning to level out, meaning the show would benefit from new talent.

Enright and Freedman find a new contestant in Columbia University instructor Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes), son of the renowned poet and intellectual Mark Van Doren (Paul Scofield) and the novelist Dorothy Van Doren (Elizabeth Wilson). The producers subtly offer to rig the show for him but Van Doren uprightly refuses. Enright soon treats Stempel to dinner at an upscale restaurant, where he breaks the news that Stempel must lose in order to boost flagging ratings. Stempel begrudgingly agrees, only on the condition that he remains on television, threatening to reveal the true reason of his success: the answers had been provided for him.

Stempel and Van Doren face each other in Twenty One, where the match comes down to a predetermined question regarding Marty, the 1955 winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture. Despite knowing the correct film, Stempel gives the wrong answer of On the Waterfront, allowing Van Doren to get a question he previously answered while in Enright’s offices; he provides the winning response.

In the weeks that follow, Van Doren’s winning streak makes him a national celebrity. Buckling under the new pressure, he begins to let the producers directly give him the answers instead of researching for them himself. Meanwhile, Stempel, having lost his financial prize winnings to a fleeting bookie, begins threatening legal action against the NBC network after weeks go by without his return to television. He is shown going into the office of New York County District Attorney Frank Hogan.

Richard N. “Dick” Goodwin (Rob Morrow), a young Congressional lawyer from Harvard Law, becomes intrigued when he reads that the grand jury’s findings from Hogan’s proceedings are sealed. He travels to New York to investigate rumors of rigged quiz shows. Visiting a number of contestants, including Stempel and Van Doren, he begins to suspect Twenty One is indeed a fixed operation. However, Stempel is a volatile personality and nobody else seems to corroborate that the show is rigged. Goodwin enjoys the company of Van Doren, who invites him to social gatherings, and doubts a man of Van Doren’s background and intellect would be involved in the hoax.

Stempel desperately confesses to being in on the fix himself, and further insists that if he got the answers in advance, Van Doren did as well. This wins Stempel an angry tell-off from his wife, who believed in him. With the evidence mounting, Van Doren deliberately loses, but is rewarded with a sizable contract from NBC to appear as a special correspondent on the Today show.

Meanwhile, Goodwin proceeds with the hearings before the House Committee for Legislative Oversight, with extended proof of the show’s corruption. Goodwin strongly advises Van Doren to avoid making any public statements supporting the show. If he agrees to this, Goodwin promises not to call Van Doren to appear before the Congressional committee. However, at the prompting of the NBC network head, Van Doren issues a statement reaffirming his trust in the honesty of the quiz show.

Stempel testifies before Congress and, while doing so, implicates Van Doren, forcing Goodwin to call him in as a witness. Van Doren goes before Congress and publicly admits his role in the conspiracy. At first, Congress is very impressed with him, but one Congressman from New York is unimpressed and puts Van Doren in his place, turning the tide against him. Afterward, he is informed by reporters of his firing from Today as well as the university’s decision to ask for his resignation.

Goodwin believes he is on the verge of a victory against Geritol and the network, but instead realizes that Enright and Freedman will not turn in their bosses and jeopardize their own futures in television; he silently watches the producers’ testimony, vindicating the sponsors and the network from any wrongdoing.


Box office[edit]

The film opened in limited release on September 14, 1994. After its initial run, the film grossed a domestic total of $24,822,619 and was a box office bomb.[2]

Critical reception[edit]

The film was very well received. As of July 15, 2013, it had a 96% rating from Rotten Tomatoes.[7] Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film 3-and-a-half stars out of four, calling the screenplay “smart, subtle and ruthless”.[8]Web critic James Berardinelli praised the “superb performances by Fiennes”, and said “John Turturro is exceptional as the uncharismatic Herbie Stempel.”[9]


Robert Redford was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director, the Academy Award for Best Picture (alongside Michael Jacobs, Julian Krainin, and Michael Nozik), the BAFTA Award for Best Film (alongside Jacobs, Krainin, and Nozik), the Golden Globe Award for Best Director, the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama, and the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Feature Film.

Paul Attanasio was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, the BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and the Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay.

Paul Scofield was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, the Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor, theNational Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor, and the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor.

John Turturro was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture, the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role, and the Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor.





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Film notes on Ordinary People

Ordinary People is a 1980 American drama film that marked the directorial debut of Robert Redford. It stars Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, Judd Hirsch andTimothy Hutton.

The story concerns the disintegration of an upper-middle class family in Lake Forest, Illinois, following the death of one of their sons in a boating accident. The screenplay by Alvin Sargent was based upon the 1976 novel Ordinary People by Judith Guest.

The film was a critical and commercial success, winning four Oscars, including the Academy Award for Best Picture.




The Jarretts are an upper-middle-class family in suburban Chicago trying to return to normal life after the death of one teenage son and the attempted suicide of their surviving son, Conrad (Timothy Hutton). Conrad has recently returned home from a four-month stay in a psychiatric hospital. He feels alienated from his friends and family and begins seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Berger (Judd Hirsch). Berger learns that Conrad was involved in a sailing accident in which his older brother, Buck, whom everyone idolized, died. Conrad now deals with post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor’s guilt.

Conrad’s father, Calvin (Donald Sutherland), awkwardly tries to connect with his surviving son and understand his wife. Conrad’s mother, Beth (Mary Tyler Moore), denies her loss, hoping to maintain her composure and restore her family to what it once was. She appears to have loved her older son more (though perhaps more what he represented), and because of the suicide attempt, has grown cold toward Conrad. She is determined to maintain the appearance of perfection and normality. Conrad works with Dr. Berger and learns to try to deal with, rather than control, his emotions. He starts dating a fellow student, Jeannine (Elizabeth McGovern), who helps him to begin to regain a sense of optimism. Conrad, however, still struggles to communicate and re-establish a normal relationship with his parents and schoolmates, including Stillman (Adam Baldwin), with whom he gets into a fist fight. He cannot seem to allow anyone, especially Beth, to get close. Beth makes several constrained attempts to appeal to Conrad for some semblance of normality, but she’s cold and unaffectionate towards him. She’s consistently more interested in getting back to “normal” than in helping her son heal.

Mother and son often argue while Calvin tries to referee, generally taking Conrad’s side for fear of pushing him over the edge again. Things come to a climax near Christmas, when Conrad becomes furious at Beth for not wanting to take a photo with him, swearing at her in front of his grandparents. Afterward, Beth discovers Conrad has been lying about his after-school whereabouts. This leads to a heated argument between Conrad and Beth in which Conrad points out that Beth never visited him in the hospital, saying, “You would have visited Buck if he was in the hospital.” Beth replies, “Buck would have never been in the hospital!” Beth and Calvin take a trip to see Beth’s brother in Houston, where Calvin confronts Beth, calling her out on her attitude.

Conrad suffers a setback when he learns that Karen (Dinah Manoff), a friend of his from the psychiatric hospital, has committed suicide. A cathartic breakthrough session with Dr. Berger allows Conrad to stop blaming himself for Buck’s death and accept his mother’s frailties. Calvin, however, emotionally confronts Beth one last time. He questions their love and asks whether she is capable of truly loving anyone. Stunned, Beth decides to flee her family rather than deal with her own, or their, emotions. Calvin and Conrad are left to come to terms with their new family situation.


Robert Redford and Timothy Hutton both won Academy Awards for their respective debuts: Redford as Best Director and Hutton as Best Supporting Actor. The film marked Mary Tyler Moore’s career breakout from the personality of her other two famous roles as Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show and Mary Richards on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Moore’s complex performance was well received and obtained a nomination forBest Actress. The film also won Best Picture for 1980.

Judd Hirsch’s portrayal of Dr. Berger was likewise a departure from his work on the sitcom Taxi, and has drawn praise from many in the psychiatric community as one of the rare times their profession is shown in a positive light in film,[1] although some consider his portrayal to be too positive, thus lending an air of one-dimensionality.[2] Hirsch was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor, losing out to co-star Hutton. Donald Sutherland’s performance in the film was also well received and was nominated for a Golden Globe Award. He was not nominated for an Academy Award along with his co-stars, however, which Entertainment Weeklyhas described as one of the worst acting snubs in the history of the Academy Awards.[3] Ordinary People launched the career of Elizabeth McGovern, who received special permission to film while attending Juilliard. 1980 was also a break-out year for Adam Baldwin, who had a small role in Ordinary People while starring in My Bodyguard the same year.

Ordinary People received very positive reviews from critics. Roger Ebert gave it four stars,[4] calling it “one of the year’s best films, probably of the decade” and later named it the fifth best film of the year 1980.[citation needed]

Pachelbel’s Canon, used as thematic and background music, enjoyed a surge in popularity as a result.

The film was a box office success, grossing $54 million at theaters and $23 million in rentals.[citation needed]


Award Category Recipients and nominees Result
53rd Academy Awards Academy Award for Best Picture Ronald L. Schwary Won
Academy Award for Best Director Robert Redford Won
Academy Award for Best Actress Mary Tyler Moore Nominated
Academy Award for Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay) Alvin Sargent Won
Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor Judd Hirsch Nominated
Timothy Hutton Won
35th British Academy Film Awards BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role Mary Tyler Moore Nominated
BAFTA Award for Best Newcomer Timothy Hutton Nominated
Directors Guild of America Award Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Feature Film Robert Redford Won
38th Golden Globe Awards Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama Ronald L. Schwary Won
Golden Globe Award for Best Director Robert Redford Won
Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama Donald Sutherland Nominated
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama Mary Tyler Moore Won
Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay Alvin Sargent Won
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Judd Hirsch Nominated
Timothy Hutton Won
Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actor
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards 1980 Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Film Won
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director Robert Redford Won
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor Timothy Hutton Won
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards 1980 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor Timothy Hutton Won
National Board of Review Awards 1980 National Board of Review Award for Best Film Won
National Board of Review: Top Ten Films Won
National Board of Review Award for Best Director Robert Redford Won
National Society of Film Critics Awards 1980 National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress Mary Tyler Moore 2nd place
National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor Timothy Hutton 2nd place
1980 New York Film Critics Circle Awards New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Film Won
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director Robert Redford 3rd place
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress Mary Tyler Moore 3rd place
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor Timothy Hutton 3rd place
Writers Guild of America Award Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay Alvin Sargent Won


Film notes on The Black Power Mixtape

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 is a 2011 documentary film, directed by Göran Olsson, that examines the evolution of the Black Power Movement in American society from 1967 to 1975. It features the found footage shot by a group of Swedish journalists (discovered some 30 years later in the cellar of Swedish Television) overlaid with commentaries and interviews from leading contemporary African-American artists, activists, musicians and scholars.[1] The footage includes appearances by Stokely Carmichael, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Seale, Huey P. Newton, Emile de Antonio, Angela Davis and commentaries by Erykah Badu, Talib Kweli,Harry Belafonte, Kathleen Cleaver, Angela Davis, Robin Kelley and Abiodun Oyewole, amongst others.

Film notes on All Power to the People

All Power to the People is a 1996 documentary by Lee Lew-Lee about American race relations and the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and covers slavery, civil-rights activists, assassinations and methods used to divide and destroy key figures. It moves beyond that era into covering Ronald Reagan-era events, privacy threats from new technologies, and the failure of the War on Drugs. It is composed primarily of archival footage and interviews. Interviewees include ex-Central Intelligence Agency officer Philip Agee, Life magazine journalist/filmmaker Gordon Parks, decorated FBI Special Agent M. Wesley Swearingen, and various 1960s political radicals such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. It covers both the virtues and faults of these civil rights leaders and activists.[1]

Broadcast in 24 countries on 12 networks in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia & Australia between 1997-2000.


Film notes on Hell’s House

Hell’s House is a 1932 American drama film starring Junior Durkin, featuring Bette Davis and directed by Howard Higgin. The screenplay by Paul Gangelin and B. Harrison Orkow, set during the waning days of the Prohibition era, is based on a story by Higgin.

Cast (in credits order)


Bette Davis and Pat O’Brien

When orphaned Jimmy Mason is taken in by his Aunt Emma and Uncle Henry, he meets their boarder Matt Kelly, who impresses the young man with his boastful swagger and alleged political connections, although in reality he’s a bootlegger.

The boy’s life is disrupted when, as one of Kelly’s hired hands, he refuses to identify his boss during a police raid and is sentenced to three years of hard labor in reform school, where he befriends a sickly boy named Shorty, who eventually is sent to solitary confinement.

When Jimmy realizes his new pal is seriously ill and desperately needs medical attention, he escapes and goes to Kelly and Kelly’s girl friend, Peggy Gardner, for help. Peggy contacts newspaper columnist Frank Gebhardt, who is anxious to expose the conditions at the state industrial school.

The authorities find Jimmy at Gebhardt’s office, but before they can apprehend him Kelly admits his involvement in the bootlegging operation and the boy is set free. He discovers Shorty has died, victimized by a corrupt system.


The film, shot in thirteen days, originally was entitled Juvenile Court. Bette Davis was loaned to B. F. Zeidman Productions Ltd. by Universal Pictures, and following her completion of this film studio head Carl Laemmle, Jr. allowed her option to drop. She was preparing to return to New York City when George Arliss offered her the ingenue role in The Man Who Played God.[1]

Critical reception

In his review in the New York Times, Mordaunt Hall observed, “The attempt to pillory reform schools . . . is hardly adult in its attack, but it has a few moderately interesting interludes . . . The direction of this film is old-fashioned. Pat O’Brien . . . gives a forced performance. Young Durkin’s playing is sincere and likewise that of Bette Davis as Peggy.”[2]


Further reading

An excerpt from the review at Noirish:

“Stiffly acted in its opening minutes, Hell’s House gathers momentum satisfactorily; particularly bizarre early on is when Emma Clark, having just moments before heard that her dear sister Lucy has been killed, exchanges light-hearted banter with Kelly. O’Brien is probably too lightweight an actor to carry off a part that has similarities with James Cagney’s very roughly equivalent role in ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES (1938), and Dirkin/Durkin gives the impression that he’s learning on the job; but Davis in the later stages shows some of the power of which she was capable, her eyes glittering and her glower almost a physical presence as Peggy forces Kelly to do the decent thing.”

Film notes on Another Man’s Poison

Another Man’s Poison is a 1951 British drama film directed by Irving Rapper and starring Bette Davis, Gary Merrill and Emlyn Williams. The screenplay by Val Guest is based on the play Deadlockby Leslie Sands.


Successful mystery novelist Janet Frobisher, who has been separated for years from her husband, a man with a criminal past, lives in an isolated home in England. Her nearest neighbour is nosyveterinarian Dr. Henderson. Janet falls in love and occasionally dabbles with her secretary Chris’fiancé, Larry, who is years younger than she. When her estranged husband unexpectedly appears, Janet poisons him by administering horse medication given to her by her neighbour. One of the deceased man’s criminal cohorts arrives as she’s preparing to dispose of the body in the local lake. When Frobisher’s secretary and Larry arrive at the secluded house, the mysterious man, who has assisted her with her scheme, impersonates the long-absent spouse of Janet, who plots to get rid of her unplanned accomplice, as well.

Production notes

Of the project, star Bette Davis recalled, “We had nothing but script trouble. Gary [Merrill] and I often wondered why we agreed to make this film after we got started working on it. Emlyn [Williams] rewrote many scenes for us, which gave it some plausibility, but we never cured the basic ills of the story.”[1]

This was the second on-screen pairing of then-married couple Davis and Gary Merrill, following All About Eve the previous year.

Rapper, who was selected by Davis to helm the film, had directed her in Now, Voyager ten years earlier.

Co-star and script doctor Emlyn Williams wrote the original play on which Davis’ 1945 film The Corn Is Green was based.

Exteriors of the United Artists release were filmed on location in Malham, North Yorkshire, and interiors were shot at the Nettlefold Studios in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey.

Principal cast

  • Bette Davis ….. Janet Frobisher
  • Gary Merrill ….. George Bates
  • Emlyn Williams ….. Dr. Henderson
  • Anthony Steel ….. Larry Stevens
  • Barbara Murray ….. Chris Dale
  • Reginald Beckwith ….. Mr. Bigley
  • Edna Morris ….. Mrs. Bunting

Principal production credits

Critical reception

The New York Times described the film as “a garrulous but occasionally interesting excursion into murder and unrequited love . . . the script . . . is basically a static affair that rarely escapes from its sets or the scenarist’s verbosity. Suspense is only fitfully generated and then quickly dissipated . . . Gary Merrill contributes a thoroughly seasoned and convincing portrayal . . . Emlyn Williams adds a professionally polished characterization . . . and Anthony Steel and Barbara Murray are adequate . . . However, Another Man’s Poison is strictly Bette Davis’ meat. She is permitted a wide latitude of histrionics in delineating the designing neurotic who is as flinty a killer as any we’ve seen in the recent past.”[2]

In his review in New Statesman and Nation, Frank Hauser wrote, “No one has ever accused Bette Davis of failing to rise to a good script; what this film shows is how far she can go to meet a bad one.”[3]


Further reading

An excerpt from the review at A Trip Down Memory Lane:

“Not top drawer Bette Davis, but in fact her bravura acting style carries this film over some rough patches. Another, a lesser actress might have not done as much with the material, but Bette Davis certainly could and did…”


An excerpt from the review at Flapper Days:

“Fun trivia, Bette Davis and her costar Gary Merrill were married at the time they made this film.  Davis and Merrill were married from July 28, 1950 to July 6, 1960.  In fact, being newly married is part of the reason they made this film.  The newlyweds wanted to act together again.  They were both in the classic film, All About Eve.  Davis also wanted to act with Emlyn Williams.  This came together in this British film.  I didn’t feel like Davis and Merrill had good chemistry.  They really seemed to hate each other.  I’m not sure if this is really good acting or a sign of things to come.  It was a very tumultuous marriage.  According to all accounts, they fought constantly.  After their divorce, neither would marry again.  Apparently this marriage spoiled both of them on the institution.”


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Film notes on How The West Was Won

How the West Was Won is a 1962 American Metrocolor epic-Western film.[4] The picture was one of the last “old-fashioned” epic films made by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to enjoy great success. Set between 1839 and 1889, it follows four generations of a family (starting as the Prescotts) as they move ever westward, from western New York state to the Pacific Ocean. The picture was filmed in the curved-screen three-projector Cinerama process.

The fundamental idea behind the film was to provide an episodic retelling of the progress of westward migration and development of America. It was inspired by a much longer and more complex series of historical narratives that appeared as a photo essay series, by the same name, three years earlier in Life magazine, which is acknowledged in the film’s credits.

The all-star cast includes (in alphabetical order) Carroll BakerWalter BrennanLee J. CobbAndy DevineHenry FondaCarolyn JonesKarl MaldenHarry Morgan,Gregory PeckGeorge PeppardRobert PrestonDebbie ReynoldsJames Stewart,Eli WallachJohn Wayne, and Richard Widmark. The film is narrated by Spencer Tracy.

The movie consists of five segments, three directed by Henry Hathaway (“The Rivers”, “The Plains” and “The Outlaws”), and one each by John Ford (“The Civil War”) and George Marshall (“The Railroad”), with transitional sequences by the uncredited Richard Thorpe. The screenplay was written by John Gay (uncredited) and James R. Webb. Popular western author Louis L’Amour wrote a novelization of the screenplay.[5]

In 1997, How the West Was Won was selected for preservation in the United StatesNational Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. The score was listed at #25 on AFI‘s 100 Years of Film Scores.


The film marked then sixty-six-year-old Raymond Massey’s last appearance as Abraham Lincoln, a role that he had previously played on stage (Abe Lincoln in Illinois and the stage adaptation of John Brown’s Body), on screen (Abe Lincoln in Illinois) and on television (The Day Lincoln Was Shot, and two more productions of Abe Lincoln in Illinois).

Lee Van Cleef (bushwhacking river pirate), John LarchKen CurtisJay C. FlippenClinton SundbergCarleton YoungRodolfo Acosta and Harry Dean Stanton play very brief, uncredited roles.


The Rivers (1840)

The settlers’ raft is caught in rapids.

Zebulon Prescott (Karl Malden) and his family set out west for the frontier via the Erie Canal, the “west” at this time being theIllinois country. On the journey, they meet mountain man Linus Rawlings (James Stewart) who is traveling east to Pittsburgh to trade his furs. He and Zebulon’s daughter Eve (Carroll Baker) are attracted to each other, but Linus is not ready to settle down.

Linus stops at an isolated trading post run by a murderous clan of river pirates headed by “Alabama Colonel” Hawkins (Walter Brennan). Linus is betrayed when he accompanies seductive Dora Hawkins (Brigid Bazlen) into a cave to see a “varmint”. She stabs him in the back and pushes him into a deep hole. He is not seriously wounded, and is able to rescue the Prescott party from a similar fate. The bushwhacking thieves (Lee Van Cleef plays one), including Dora, are dispatched with rough frontier justice.

After burning the thieves’ bodies in a massive funeral pyre (made from a temporary cabin where the confrontation took place) and praying to God for the salvation of the thieves’ souls “whether You want ‘em or not”, the settlers continue down the river, but their raft is caught in rapids and Zebulon and his wife Rebecca (Agnes Moorehead) drown. Linus, finding that he cannot live without Eve, reappears and marries her. She insists on homesteading at the spot where her parents died.

Directed by Henry Hathaway.

The Plains (1850s)

The wagon train is attacked by Cheyenne Indians.

Eve’s sister Lilith (Debbie Reynolds) chooses to go to St. Louis, where she finds work performing in a dance hall. She attracts the attention of professional gambler Cleve Van Valen (Gregory Peck). After overhearing that she has just inherited a California gold mine, and to avoid paying his debts to another gambler (John Larch), Cleve joins the wagon train taking her there. He and wagonmaster Roger Morgan (Robert Preston) court her along the way, but she rejects them both, much to the dismay of her new friend and fellow traveler Agatha Clegg (Thelma Ritter), who is searching for a husband.

Surviving an attack by Cheyenne Indians, Lilith and Cleve arrive at the mine, only to find that it is worthless. Cleve leaves. Lilith returns to work in a dance hall in a camp town, living out of a covered wagon. Morgan finds her and again proposes marriage unromantically. She tells him, “Not now, not ever.”

Later, Lilith is singing in the music salon of a riverboat. By chance, Cleve is a passenger. When he hears Lilith’s voice, he leaves the poker table (and a winning hand) to propose to her. He tells her of the opportunities waiting in the rapidly growing city of San Francisco. She accepts his proposal.

Directed by Henry Hathaway.


The Civil War (1861–1865)

American Civil War.

Linus Rawlings joins the Union army as a captain in the American Civil War. Despite Eve’s wishes, their son Zeb (George Peppard) eagerly enlists as well, looking for glory and an escape from farming. Corporal Peterson (Andy Devine) assures them the conflict won’t last very long. The bloody Battle of Shiloh shows Zeb that war is nothing like he imagined and, unknown to him, his father Linus dies there. Zeb encounters a similarly disillusioned Confederate (Russ Tamblyn) who suggests deserting, and Zeb agrees.

By chance, they overhear a private conversation between Generals Ulysses S. Grant (Harry Morgan) and William Tecumseh Sherman (John Wayne). The rebel realizes he has the opportunity to rid the South of two of its greatest enemies and tries to shoot them, leaving Zeb no choice but to stab and kill him with the bayonet from his shattered musket. Afterward, Zeb rejoins the army.

When the war finally ends, he returns home as an Infantry Lieutenant, only to find his mother has died. She had lost the will to live after learning that Linus had been killed. Zeb gives his share of the family farm to his brother, who is more tied to the land, and leaves in search of a more interesting life.

Directed by John Ford.

The Railroad (1868)

The construction of railroad.

Following the daring riders from the Pony Express and the construction of thetranscontinental telegraph line in the late 1860s, two ferociously competing railroad lines, the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad, one building westward and the other eastward, open up new territory to eager settlers.

Zeb becomes a lieutenant in the U.S. cavalry, trying to maintain peace with the Indians with the help of grizzled buffalo hunter Jethro Stuart (Henry Fonda), an old friend of Linus. When ruthless railroad man Mike King (Richard Widmark) violates a treaty by building on Indian territory, the Arapaho Indians retaliate by stampeding buffalo through his camp, killing many, including women and children. Disgusted, Zeb resigns and heads to Arizona.

Directed by George Marshall.

The Outlaws (1880s)

The desperadoes who want to rob the train.

In San Francisco, widowed Lilith auctions off her possessions (she and Cleve had made and spent several fortunes) to pay her debts. She travels to Arizona, inviting Zeb and his family to oversee her remaining asset, a ranch.

Zeb (now a marshal), his wife Julie (Carolyn Jones) and their children meet Lilith at Gold City’s train station. However, Zeb also runs into an old enemy there, outlaw Charlie Gant (Eli Wallach). It is revealed that Zeb killed Gant’s brother in a gunfight. When Gant makes veiled threats against Zeb and his family, Zeb turns to his friend and Gold City’s marshal, Lou Ramsey (Lee J. Cobb), but Gant is not wanted for anything in that territory, so there is little Ramsey can do.

Zeb decides he has to act rather than wait for Gant to make good his threat to show up someday. Suspecting Gant of planning to rob an unusually large gold shipment being transported by train, he prepares an ambush with Ramsey’s reluctant help. Gant and his entire gang (one member played by Harry Dean Stanton) are killed in the shootout and resulting train wreck. In the end, Lilith and the Rawlings family travel to their new home.

A short epilogue shows modern Los Angeles and San Francisco in the early 1960s, including the famous four-level downtown freeway interchange and Golden Gate Bridge, indicating the growth of the West in 80 years.

Directed by Henry Hathaway.


How the West Was Won was one of only two dramatic feature films (the other being The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm) made using the three-strip Cinerama process. Although the picture quality when projected onto curved screens in theatres was stunning, attempts to convert the movie to a smaller screen suffer from that process’s technical shortcomings. When seen inletterbox format the actors’ faces are nearly indistinguishable in long shots.

Henry Fonda as a buffalo hunter

John Ford complained about having to dress such huge sets since Cinerama photographed a much wider view than the standard single camera process to which Hollywood directors had become accustomed. Director Henry Hathaway was quoted as saying, “That damned Cinerama. Do you know a waist-shot is as close as you can get with that thing?”

A portion of the film’s profits were meant to go to St John’s Hospital. This led to Irene Dunne and others to persuade the movies stars to take less than their usual fees. However the hospital later sued for a share of these profits.[6]

An even more difficult problem was that the film had to be shot with the actors artificially positioned out of dramatic and emotional frame, and out of synchronization with one another. Only when the three-print Cinerama process was projected upon a Cinerama screen would the positions and emotions of the actors synchronize, such as normal eye-contact or emotional harmony between actors in a dramatic sequence. Because of the nature of Cinerama if film were shown in flat screen projection it would appear as if the actors were not making eye contact at all.

One brief scene of Mexican soldiers was generously sourced by John Wayne from the 1960 version of The Alamo, which he starred in, produced, and directed.

Stuntman Bob Morgan, husband of Yvonne De Carlo, was seriously injured and lost a leg during a break in filming a gunfight on a moving train while filming “The Outlaws” portion. Chains holding logs on a flat-bed car broke, crushing Morgan as he crouched beside them.[7]

The film would later inspire an ABC television series of the same name.


The music for the film was composed and conducted by Alfred Newman. The soundtrack album was originally released by MGM Records. Dimitri Tiomkin, well known for scores to western films, was the first composer approached to compose the music for the film. However, Tiomkin became unavailable as a result of eye surgery, and Newman was hired as a replacement.

The score is widely considered to be one of Newman’s best, and appears on the AFI’s 100 Years of Film Scores list. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score, losing to Tom Jones.


Box office performance

How the West Was Won was a massive commercial success. Produced on a then large budget of $15 million, it grossed $46,500,000 at the North American box office,[8] making it the second highest grossing film of 1963. The film grossed $50 million worldwide.[3]


The film won three Academy Awards for:[9][10]

It was also nominated for:


James Stewart as frontiersman Linus Rawlings

Crest Digital was given the task of restoring the original Cinerama negative for How the West Was Won in 2000 and built their own authentic Cinerama screening room in order to complete the process.[11] There have also been efforts, led by HP,[12] to combine the three image portions and make the Cinerama image look more acceptable on a flat screen. This has finally been accomplished on the latest DVD and Blu-ray Disc release. The lines at which the three Cinerama panels joined were formerly glaringly visible (as seen in the stills reproduced on this page), but this has been largely corrected on the Warner Bros. DVD and Blu-ray Disc, although the joins can still be seen in places, especially against bright backgrounds. The restoration also corrects some of the geometric distortions inherent in the process; for instance, in the final shot, the Golden Gate Bridge appears to curve in perspective as the camera flies underneath it, whereas in the Cinerama version, it breaks into three straight sections at different angles.

The Blu-ray Disc also contains a “SmileBox” version, simulating the curved screen effect.

Even though the aspect ratio of Cinerama was 2.59:1, Warner’s new BD and DVD releases of the film offer an aspect ratio of 2.89:1, incorporating image information on both sides that was never meant to be seen when projected. The BD-exclusive SmileBox alternative has the intentional cropping intact.

The restored Warner Bros. release has been shown on television since October 2008, on the Encore Westerns channel.


Further reading

An article from the review at Felice’s Log:

“The fifty year period that spanned “HOW THE WEST WAS WON” struck me as more suitable for a television miniseries, instead of a movie – even if it had a running time of 162 minutes.  There was too much going on in this film and its time span of fifty years was simply too long.  The 2005 miniseries, “INTO THE WEST” had a similar premise, but it had the good luck to be aired in a six-part miniseries that ran for 552 minutes.  And because of the lack of balance between the story’s premise/time span and its running time, the story about the Prescott-Rawlins family seemed half-empty . . . and rushed.”


An excerpt from the review at Movie Waffler:

“The most exciting segment is George Marshall’s “The Railroad”, featuring a chilling  performance from Richard Widmark as a railroad foreman who cheats an Indian tribe out of their land. There’s a thrilling scene involving a buffalo stampede which must have been some experience in a theater fitted with a Cinerama screen. Compare it to a similar sequence in this year’s dire “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” and see how far Hollywood spectacle has sunk. No amount of CG can compare with the sight of a herd of live buffalo running rampage across the screen. Marshall is one of Hollywood’s forgotten men, known for helming action scenes for other directors. He’s responsible for no less a set-piece than the famed chariot race in “Ben Hur”.”


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