The westerns that won us

There can be no better introduction to the wild wild West than the classic 1962 MGM Cinerama presentation of How The West Was Won,which has been digitally re-mastered for DVD.

Written by Shubhra Gupta | Published: February 6, 2010 10:16:52 pm

There can be no better introduction to the wild wild West than the classic 1962 MGM Cinerama presentation of How The West Was Won,which has been digitally re-mastered for DVD. The story of how the march of man and machine conquered the vast wilderness of the American continent has been told countless times in countless forms,but seldom has it achieved the sweep and solidity of How The West Was Won,which uses the devices of fiction and the spirit of documentary to track the fortunes of the intrepid Prescott family.

The magic of the three-camera panoramic set-up (Cinerama),in which what is up close is as sharply in focus as that which is three miles behind,is lost on a TV screen,but you can still enjoy the unusual depth the breathtaking scenes possess — scenes that take in angry rapids,thundering horses,lawmen and bandits,all of the things familiar to us from so many westerns. And it appears as if almost every big Hollywood star of the time is in it. Gregory Peck,James Stewart,Eli Wallach,John Wayne,Robert Preston,Henry Fonda all appear in different segments as the story courses through from 1839 to ’89.

Move on to one of the best westerns ever made. A superb commentary accompanying Once Upon A Time In The West calls it an “Italian Western”,eschewing the more derogatory term “Spaghetti”. Nothing that director Sergio Leone did had anything as homely as spaghetti about it: the film is operatic,out of real time,ultra-dramatic. It has one of the most astonishing prologues —the bad guys,all in long dusters,hats,and scowls,arrive at a tiny station,waiting for someone. Leone stretches everything out. All you hear is a concert of natural sounds,amplified manifold — the annoying buzz of a fly,the creak of a saloon door and,finally,when you can bear it no more,the shriek of a train engine. It stops,the bad guys range on one side,the man they have been waiting for looms on the other side,guns bark,and time stops.

Watch Henry Fonda,him of the blue,blue eyes,playing completely against type as the cold killer,and Charles Bronson,playing that haunting tune on the harmonica,fading in and out of action. Ramesh Sippy stole the harmonica for Sholay (Amitabh Bachchan is accessorised with it),and some other key scenes: watch and compare.

Quick Gun Murugan,Shashank Ghosh’s spoof on all things western with a Southern touch,is about a cowboy out to protect the dosa from a fate worse than death. Can there be anything worse than a non-veg dosa? If you shudder at the very prospect,Quick Gun’s antics may amuse you mildly. QMG began life as a rollicking Channel V spot; his feature-film avatar is fun only sporadically. Look out for the nicer parts —the slo mo bullets and Mango Dolly’s golden wigs and wiggles.

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