Epic Westerns always make a way into our hearts, in the case of How the West Was Won filming locations. This 1962 movie by Henry Hathaway, the outdoor scenes are one of the most impactful. Firstly, because the movie was shot in Cinerama, a complex technique that required three cameras and a lot of equipment handling in the inclement outdoors. Secondly, because of its huge ensemble cast and multiple filming locations. And thirdly, because of its great narrative.
How the West Was Won takes us on an epic adventure of conquest and discovery in six different chapters across the history of the westward expansion of the United States. Firstly, the film takes us to the rivers. Secondly, we go to the vast central plains of the United States. Thirdly, we travel to the torrid period of the Civil War. Fourthly, we see how the railroads connected the country. Fifthly, we take a look at the outlaws in the wild west. And lastly, we glance at an epilogue narrated by Spencer Tracy.
How the West Was Won Filming Locations
“How The West Was Won” had over forty-eight filming locations in the outdoors of the vast geography of the United States. Firstly, the movie began filming in 1961 in Kentucky. The producers wanted the entirety of the movie filmed in the outdoors. Throughout the film, little people are seen against enormous landscapes – vast deserts, boundless plains, towering mountains, and wide rivers. The producers wanted to portray the restless energy that drove these men and women throughout the nation despite numerous challenges and risks. And did so impeccably.
From caves in Illinois to railroad bridges in Perkinsville, Arizona, to the Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Moreover, there are a lot of places the crew filmed for this movie’s photography. Take, for example, the rivers, Kentucky’s Cumberland River was the scenario and also the Ohio River in Kentucky. For the vast forests, the cast moved to the Alabama Hills in Lone Pine, California, and its majestic Sierra Nevada mountains. Or the deserts in Arizona, Tucson. And the Cedar Mountains in Utah are also present. Lastly, the Colorado Rocky Mountains are also filmed.
The tale begins with Linus Rawlings, who is going east to Pittsburgh to exchange his furs. He comes to a halt at a remote trade station controlled by a deadly band of river pirates led by “Alabama Colonel” Jeb Hawkins (Walter Brennan). Linus is deceived when he goes with Jeb’s attractive daughter Dora Hawkins (Brigid Bazlen) to visit a “varmint” in a cave fashioned after a genuine outlaw hangout and now part of Cave-in-Rock State Park. Rawlings is stabbed in the back by Dora Hawkins, and he falls into a deep hole. He is not severely injured, and he saves the Prescott party from the same fate.
In a sort of harsh frontier justice, the bushwhacking thieves (played by Lee Van Cleef), including Dora Hawkins, are despatched, being murdered in an attack by Rawlings. The settlers continue down the river after Zebulon prays to God for their lost loved ones and commends the thieves’ souls to Him “whether You want ’em or not,” but their raft gets trapped in rapids, and Zebulon and his wife Rebecca (Agnes Moorehead) perish. Linus returns and marries Eve after realizing he can’t live without her. She is adamant about living on the land where her parents perished.
Lilith (Debbie Reynolds), Eve’s sister, decides to return East, but after a few years finds herself traveling in St. Louis, where she and her troupe are recruited to perform fashionable acts at the Music Hall. Cleve Van Valen, a skilled gambler, is drawn to her (Gregory Peck). Cleve joins the wagon train carrying her to California after learning she has inherited a gold mine in California and to escape paying his debts to another gambler (John Larch). Roger Morgan (Robert Preston) and he court her along the trip, but she rejects both, much to the chagrin of her new friend and fellow traveler Agatha Clegg (Thelma Ritter), who is looking for a spouse.
After surviving a Cheyenne assault, Lilith and Cleve arrive at the mine, only to discover that it is useless. Cleve departs. Lilith returns to work in a camp town dance hall while living in a covered wagon. Morgan locates her and, once again, proposes marriage in an unromantic manner. “Nor now, not ever,” she says. Lilith later sings on a riverboat’s music salon. Cleve happens to be a passenger. He quits the poker table (and a good hand) when he hears Lilith’s voice to propose to her. He informs her about the possibilities that await her in the fast-expanding metropolis of San Francisco. She agrees to his proposition.
The Civil War
Linus Rawlings becomes a captain in the Union army during the American Civil War. Despite Eve’s wishes, their son Zeb (Peppard) joins the army, seeking fame and an escape from farming. Corporal Peterson (Andy Devine) tells them that the war will be over soon. The terrible Battle of Shiloh teaches Zeb that war is not what he expected, and his father dies there, unbeknownst to him. Zeb meets another disillusioned Confederate (Russ Tamblyn), who advises deserting.
They overhear a private discussion between Generals Ulysses S. Grant (Harry Morgan) and William Tecumseh Sherman by accident (Wayne). The rebel understands he has the chance to rid the South of two of its worst foes and attempts to shoot them, forcing Zeb to murder him with the bayonet from his broken musket. Zeb then rejoins the army. When the war is over, Zeb comes home as a lieutenant, only to discover that his mother has died. She’d lost her desire to live after discovering Linus had been murdered. Zeb transfers his portion of the family property to his brother, who is happy to remain a farmer, and departs in quest of a more exciting life.
Following the brave riders of the Pony Express and the completion of the transcontinental telegraph line in the late 1860s, the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad, one building westward and the other eastward, opened up new areas to eager settlers. Zeb becomes a lieutenant in the United States cavalry, attempting to keep the peace with the Native Americans with the assistance of grizzled buffalo hunter Jethro Stuart (Fonda), an old friend of Linus’. When cruel railroader Mike King (Widmark) breaks a treaty by constructing on Indian land, the Arapahos react by stampeding buffalo through his camp, murdering many people, including women and children. Zeb, disgusted, resigns and travels to Arizona.
Lilith, a widow, sells off her belongings in San Francisco to settle her debts (Cleve and she had earned and squandered many fortunes). She goes to Arizona and invites Zeb and his family to manage her last asset, a ranch. Lilith meets Zeb (now a marshal), his wife Julie (Carolyn Jones), and their children in Gold City’s railway station. However, Zeb encounters an old foe there, bandit Charlie Gant (Wallach). In a shootout, Zeb murdered Gant’s brother.
When Gant makes veiled threats against Zeb and his family, Zeb seeks the assistance of his buddy and Gold City’s marshal, Lou Ramsey (Lee J. Cobb), but Gant is not wanted for anything in that area, so Ramsey is unable to intervene. Zeb thinks he must strike now rather than wait for Gant to follow through on his threat someday. He plans an ambush with Ramsey’s hesitant assistance, suspecting Gant of trying to steal an abnormally big gold cargo being carried by rail. Gant and his whole gang are murdered in the ensuing gunfight and train accident. Lilith and the Rawlings family eventually go to their new house.