It’s not so much the Wild West that’s tamed in the latest remastering of this pic as those disfiguring ‘joins’ between the three interlocked picture-panels of the original CINERAMA format. Just as important, the color scheme on the three separate film negatives have been re-equalized for a much smoother match across-the-frame. (Check out the trailer to see the difference/improvement. Was it re-mastered from the 70mm single image re-release transfer print? See poster, below.) Too bad the DVD producers couldn’t also fix the clichéd plot, corny acting and the technical peculiarities of CINERAMA that made close-ups nearly impossible and all the interiors look like warehouses. Dashing past three pioneering generations and an entire continent in 2 & a half hours leaves only so much time for character development and the plot plays out like a highlight reel with one major ‘WOW’ set piece per section. The All-Star cast makes it easy to follow the various plots, but the acting is right out of a Dean Martin Celebrity Roast. Except . . . except for the remarkable reel and a half segment on the Civil War helmed by John Ford. Listen carefully and you’ll immediately hear the tone of the film change as composer Alfred Newman brings back a motif from his own 1940 score for Ford’s HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY. (Ford had just borrowed Newman's 'Ann Rutledge' theme from YOUNG MR. LINCOLN/’39 for THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE/’62.) The actual war scene is fine (John Wayne as Sherman & Harry Morgan as Grant), but it’s the bookend scenes back on the family farm that really sink in. Suddenly, everything on the screen seems to matter. The acting grows in stature; triangular compositions find dramatic possibilities in CINERAMA’s visual oddities; the pacing breathes the song of life; and the late-Fordian tone of melancholia briefly takes over. Then, it’s back to the show.
DOUBLE-BILL: Try this with a WideScreen 70mm Western made all the way back in 1930, Raoul Walsh’s flop epic, THE BIG TRAIL. The format & early Talkie technology make this both stiff & fascinating. Like HTWWW, it’s mighty shy with cutting and close-ups, but it has the real smell of the West on it. And that shockingly handsome, callow youth playing the lead is a kid by the name of John Wayne.