Friday, October 16, 2020

What's the Score? How the West Was Won (1962)

How the West Was Won
(1962, MGM) has been called one of the last great epic screen Westerns. Directed by John Ford and running for nearly three hours, it featured the ultimate Western film cast: Carroll Baker, Lee J. Cobb, Henry Fonda, Karl Malden, Gregory Peck, George Peppard, Debbie Reynolds, James Stewart, Eli Wallach, John, Wayne, Richard Widmark, and was narrated by Spenser Tracy.

 My copy of the United Artists LP, produced by the Hollywood Sound Stage Orchestra, features linear notes by Norman Weiser, president of Chappell Music Company of New York, part of London’s Warner-Chappel, the world’s largest music publisher. Weiser says “The music has the potential of long-span popularity for it has been critically acclaimed as one of the best motion picture scores to be heard in many years.” Weiser wasn’t wrong, in 2005, the score was listed at number 25 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years of Film Scores.

 Composed and conducted by Alfred Newman and originally released by MGM Records, the music was nominated for an Academy Award by lost to Tom Jones.

 The movie’s story is told through a series of five vignettes: The Rivers, The Plains, The Civil War, The Railroad, The Outlaws, spanning 50 years and following four generations of the Prescott family as they move west from New York. What makes the full-length score so spectacular is the way Newman arranged for particular styles of music to play off specific settings.

 This clip, the original recording by the MGM Orchestra is sweeping in its majesty, energetic and fun. Just like the film.


Debbie Reynolds sings three songs in the film, “Raise a Ruckus Tonight,” “What Was Your Name in the States?” and “A Home in the Meadow” to the tune of “Greensleeves.”

 The original selections on my United Artists LP are rounded out with Newman and Ken Darby’s arrangements of traditional tunes, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” “I’m Bound for the Promised Land,” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” 

Compared to the original recording in the clip above, the Hollywood Sound Stage Orchestra version of the theme I have here is anemic at best, and just goes to prove the old saying of Let the Buyer Beware — “Music from the Motion Picture” might be stretching the truth.

After growing up on a Nebraska farm, Richard Prosch worked as a professional writer, artist, and teacher in Wyoming, South Carolina, and Missouri. His western crime fiction captures the fleeting history and lonely frontier stories of his youth where characters aren’t always what they seem, and the windburned landscapes are filled with swift, deadly danger. In 2016, Richard roped the Spur Award for short fiction given by Western Writers of AmericaRead more at


  1. And paperback novelization by Louis L'Amour. Entertaining if corny film. After decades of terrible, pan/scan TV and VHS prints that ruined the Cinerama photography, it looks pretty good again in recent DVD and Blu-ray restorations. Richard, you're right that Ford was one of the directors, but he only handled the Civil War sequence. Henry Hathaway and George Marshall directed the rest.

  2. Rich, I really loved this score--and what a huge cast of talented actors, too! I remember when I was in high school band, our director got this score (the high school band version!) for us to learn for our concert season. We usually had a concert in the spring since fall/winter we were marching and performing at football games. Anyhow, we were all sooo thrilled to get this because it was something most of us were familiar with and I don't think there was anyone in there that didn't love it. That was probably the best-performed piece we ever did.

  3. Rich,

    I love this music as much as I love the movie and book. I saw this movie at the "Cinarama" in Denver, Colorado when it released. Denver is 90 miles from where I lived, so it was quite a family outing in 1962. The buffalo stampede was the scariest thing I'd ever seen on the big screen. It felt like they would run right out of the screen and over the top of us.

    How the West was Won is my favorite of all western soundtracks I've heard.

  4. Music scores are so exciting and your insights and information adds to much to the history. I still love the music from "The Three Musketeers" with Michael York, and this score is right up there with the above. Thank you for your series. Doris

  5. Yay Blogger has been defeated! I can comment again!

    I'm enjoying your musical series Rich -- thanks for sharing these with us!