Theatrical release: February 21, 1963.
Filmed at the MGM Studios and on location in Custer State Park, Black Hills, and Rapid City, South Dakota; in Uncompaghre National Forest, Rocky Mountains, Montrose, Durango, and Silverton, Colorado; on the Ohio and Cumberland Rivers and in Paducah, Kentucky; in Oatman, Perkinsville, Superior, and Canyon de Chelly, Arizona; in Monument Valley, Utah; in Eugene and Grand Pass, Oregon; in San Francisco, Lone Pine, Bishop, Simi, and Scotia, California; and in Tonto National Forest and Inyo National Forest.
The picture was named on the National Board of Review's list of the 10 Best Films of the Year.
James R. Webb's script was suggested by a LIFE magazine series.
Action sequences from "The Civil War" section of the film were borrowed from the 1957 Edward Dmytryk movie RAINTREE COUNTY. Shots of marching Mexican troops were from the 1960 John Wayne project, THE ALAMO.
The film's opening credits bear this dedication: "To the officials of the state of South Dakota, the United States Forest Service and Bureau Reclamation we express deep appreciation."
When the film was released in 1963, there was no MPAA rating system in place. It was rated G by the MPAA for its 1970 reissue.
From February 1978 to April 1979, ABC aired a MGM television series based on the film. Also entitled HOW THE WEST WAS WON, this extravagantly produced series was filmed on location in Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and Southern California, and starred TV Western icon James Arness, along with Fionnula Flanagan, Bruce Boxleitner, Kathryn Holcomb, William Kirby Cullen, and Vicki Schreck.
Bob Morgan, a stuntman in "The Outlaws" sequence, lost a leg during production.
Appearing in the film as "Indian Chiefs" were Ben Black Elk, Jr., William Shake Spears, Chief Oglalla Hansaka, Chief Weasel, and Red Cloud. Appearing in the film as "Indians" were members of the Brulee Sioux, Oclalles Sioux, Minnecanjous Sioux, Arapahoe, and Cheyenne Nations.
The film originally featured seven-track magnetic Cinerama sound, which utilized the standard five channels behind the screen as well as two additional surround channels on either side of the audience. The Westrex Recording System was used in the production of the soundtrack.
The film's process shots and background scenes utilized Ultra Panavision 70 cameras and lenses, which were provided by Panavision, Inc. Matte shots and shots using backdrops and rear projections could not be filmed with Cinerama cameras, because they could film past and "around" flat backgrounds. Robert R. Hoag of the MGM Laboratories Optical Department supervised the transfer of this 70mm material to the three-panel Super Cinerama in order to match the rest of the footage. Original Cinerama aspect ratio: 2.59:1.
Original prints of the film featured footage of "modern" San Francisco, in order to show how far the West had come since. Because 1963 San Francisco is no longer be considered modern, many prints have eliminated this sequence in order to avoid dating the film.
MGM later destroyed all Super Cinerama prints, and only a 70mm Super Cinerama dupe remains. A 35mm anamorphic version of the film also exists. It features four-track stereo, but lacks an overture, the intermission, and exit music. The title card for the intermission was left in, just in case a theater might want to break anyway. Three separate 16mm versions of the film exist: an anamorphic version with a 2.74:1 aspect ratio; a Metroscope version that measures 1.75:1; and a 1.37:1 Metroscan version.
The picture was one of the first story films to be produced in three-strip Cinerama. Five projectionists were required to operate the three 35mm projectors which, when placed side by side, to produced a seamless image on a huge curved screen.
Original running time: 162 minutes, plus an intermission and an overture.
Academy Awards Best Sound 1963
Academy Awards Best Film Editing 1963 Harold F. Kress American Editor/Director
Academy Awards Best Original Screenplay 1963 James R. Webb American Screenwriter