Do you remember "How the West Was Won"?

By: John Miller
Image: tmdb

About This Quiz

"Ambitious" is an understatement. "How the West Was Won" is one of the most expensive and amazing spectacles in the history of Western films. How much do you know about this incredible production?

"How the West Was Won" was released in 1962. What was special about this movie?

"How the West Was Won" was an epic production. It featured a crazy number of established stars and the storyline was outrageously complicated for a typical Western.

Most Westerns follow just one group of characters, but this movie followed how many generations of a single family?

The movie tells a sprawling tale that follows four generations of one family, as it journeys from the East Coast to the borderline savagery of the Old West.

The story begins with the Prescott family. In what year does the movie open?

The story starts in 1839, about the time the settling of the Wild West began in earnest. The story follows the Prescotts (and then Rawlings) across 50 years and finally ends in 1889.

The movie is divided into five parts. What is NOT a title of one of the five parts?

"The Indian Menace" wasn't one of the parts. The actual five parts were "The Rivers," "The Plains," "The Outlaws", "The Civil War" and "The Railroads."

The film begins with a man named Zebulon Prescott heading West with his wife and four children. Who plays the part of Zebulon?

Karl Malden plays the part of Zebulon. Malden won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his work in "A Streetcar Named Desire."

The Prescotts set off down the Ohio River on a flimsy raft. How many of the six family members survive this really bad idea?

The journey ends badly. Both parents perish on the river, leaving just two daughters, Lilith and Eve, to fend for themselves in a wild land.

The film features a famous actor who is the narrator. Who was it?

Spencer Tracy got the gig of the narrator, and his unforgettable voice guides audiences through the expansive storyline. During his legendary career, Tracy won two Oscars and was nominated for seven more.

The film was too ambitious for any one director. How many directors are credited?

Three directors received credit. They were John Ford, Henry Hathaway and George Marshall. But a fourth director, Richard Thorpe, also played a critical role in the creation of the film, particularly the transitional portions of the story.

A fur trapper named Linus takes a shine to Eve, who is now stranded near the Ohio River without her parents. What do they do?

Linus and Eve decide to get married. But their journey west is over. They settle near the river and raise a family.

What's the second part of the movie called?

The second part of the movie is called "The Plains." It begins in 1851 and follows the story of Lilith, the other surviving Prescott daughter.

Eve marries and settles down. But what happens to Lilith?

After bouncing around the Midwest, Lilith chases gold in the West ... but in vain. She finally settles in San Francisco and marries a man named Cleve.

The movie was made using a unique Cinerama process. How many cameras were necessary to film one scene in Cinerama?

Cinerama required three cameras for filming and then three projectors in order to properly show the film on a huge curved screen. The idea was to give audiences a super-wide view of expansive scenes. By the mid-70s it was mostly a forgotten concept.

What did critics think of this enormously ambitious movie?

Critics were blown away by the massive production. Decades later, reviewers still give the movie almost unanimous high marks for production and acting.

About 12,000 extras were needed during filming.

Even today, the number is nearly astonishing. The studio reportedly needed about 12,000 extras in order to shoot some of the film's epic sequences.

The third part of the movie dives into the Civil War. What does Linus Rawlings do when war erupts?

Even though his wife Eve doesn't want him to fight, Linus joins the Union Army. He dies in battle, and Eve dies soon after.

Linus and Eve have a son (Zeb) who, like his father, joins the Union Army. Who does he save during the war?

Zeb miraculously saves generals Ulysses Grant and William Sherman from the sights of a Confederate soldier. After the war, Zeb leaves behind his life for a new start in the West.

Who plays the part of Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant?

Harry Morgan received the highest praises for his portrayal of Gen. Grant. Morgan went on to become a worldwide celebrity thanks in large part to his role in the TV show "M.A.S.H."

This was a costly production, especially back in 1962. What was the movie's budget?

The epic Western cost more than $14 million, far more than most movies of the 60s. "The Sound of Music," for example, cost half of what it took to make "How the West Was Won."

The movie was a tremendous box office success.

The film was a huge risk for the studio that bankrolled production. But that initial $14 million investment turned into gross ticket sales of around $50 million, making the film a smashing success.

The fourth part of the movie details the intense competition in which blossoming industry?

"The Railroad" begins in 1868, as two competing railroads duke it out to become the titans of transcontinental transportation. Both companies know that the first railroad to reach completion will make a fortune during the rush to settle the West.

What role does Zeb have during "The Railroad"?

Zeb is a cavalry officer who protects railroad workers from hostile elements such as Indians. But when the white men violate a treaty, the Indians attack and kill many people.

What does Zeb do following the deadly Indian attack?

Zeb is thoroughly disappointed in life after the Indian attack. He pulls up roots again, and this time he heads to Arizona.

This is an incredible, sweeping production. It was nominated for 18 Academy Awards.

It was a celebrated movie, to be sure. It earned a fantastic eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Music.

The movie did, in fact, win the Oscar for Best Picture.

"How the West Was Won" did win three Oscars, but not Best Picture. That particular award went to "Tom Jones," a comedy starring Albert Finney.

The movie spans four generations of one family. How many of the family members appear in all five sequences?

No one in the olden days lived that long. No character made it into all five segments, but two characters survived for three parts of the movie.

The Cinerama filming process caused what visual element to appear in the finished product?

Because the Cinerama process used three cameras, it was impossible to remove two vertical lines in the final movie. However, thanks to digital magic, the modern version no longer has these odd lines.

A stuntman named Bob Morgan died during filming.

Morgan was on a railroad car loaded with logs during one gunfight scene. The logs came loose and crushed him, but he survived with the loss of one leg. It took him about half a decade to regain any sort of normal walking ability.

The legendary movie star Gary Cooper landed a role in the movie. Why didn't he wind up in the film?

Cooper intended to play the role of Linus Rawlings, but he died of cancer before he could do the work. James Stewart got the part instead ... and he clearly felt weird about the way he fell into the job.

In the final segment, "The Outlaws," Lilith moves to Arizona to meet Zeb. What's Lilith's situation?

Lilith made heaps of money in San Francisco and wants Zeb to take over her huge ranch. Zeb is now a sheriff in the Arizona area.

Zeb must face off with murderous outlaws in the fifth and final part of the movie. How does it end?

Zeb is smarter (and more vicious) than the cunning outlaws. He sets a trap and kills them all … and then takes over Lilith's ranch.

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