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HOW THE WEST WAS WON: SEASON 2

       

For Hicksflicks.com, July 11, 2014

"How the West Was Won: Season 2" — the 1976-79 ABC-TV series loosely based on the 1962 Cinerama film — is making its DVD debut next week (July 15), and is particularly notable for local audiences as it has a several-episode arc featuring Mormon characters.

Whether its release so close to Utah's Pioneer Day celebrations is intentional (probably not), it's certainly appropriate.

"How the West Was Won" began as a two-hour pilot movie starring post-"Gunsmoke" James Arness as mountain man Zeb Macahan, a trapper and Army scout who agrees to take his brother's family out West to avoid the impending Civil War — but the conflict proves to be a monster that cannot be outrun. There are multiple subplots, of course, and Arness' co-stars include Eva Marie Saint, Bruce Boxleitner and Richard Kiley.

Next came "How the West Was Won," a 1977 three-part miniseries with Arness, Saint and Boxleitner continuing their roles. (These shows are available on the DVD titled "How the West Was Won: Season 1.")

       

 The family Macahan in "How the West Was Won: Season 2"

The series proper began airing weekly in 1978, with Arness and Boxleitner continuing. But Saint dropped out and Fionnula Flanagan stepped into the matriarchal role as Molly, the sister of Saint's character.

Saint was terrific but Flanagan is a fine substitute. Also on hand are Ken Curtis (like Arness, another "Gunsmoke" veteran); character actor Jack Elam, familiar from dozens of Western movies and TV shows; and, in a role that earned him an Emmy, Ricardo Montalban as chief of the Sioux Nation. All 14 episodes are included in this new six-disc "Season 2" set.

    James Arness, Ricardo Montalban; publicity still of John Reilly

There are several revolving story lines that continue over many episodes, and the Mormon characters arrive quickly, played as victims, which was the common trope in many Western series of the 1950s and '60s. Themes explored include bigotry, religious intolerance and, as if you didn't suspect, polygamy. In the introduction to this story arc, there's even a character described as a bounty hunter of sorts who is "Huntin' down Mormons."

The central LDS character (John Reilly) gives a Book of Mormon to young Laura (Kathryn Holcomb) in the Macahan clan and then proposes to her, asking that she become his second wife! Something his first wife isn't too crazy about.

Later, Laura is told by someone with an axe to grind that the Mormons are murderers, citing the Mountain Meadows Massacre. And the rest becomes a fairly standard Western tale of revenge.

It's handled pretty well, albeit by the numbers, and in the end it goes all squishy and sentimental. Even regarding plural marriage:

Molly says to Laura, "You know, I think the Mormons will give up polygamy one day."

"Why," asks Laura, "because it's wrong?"

"No, dear," Molly says. "Because it makes too fierce a demand upon the human heart."