WINCHESTER 73, 1950
Cast: James Stewart, Shelly Winters, Stephen McNally, Will Greer, Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis, James Best
Lin McAdam rides into town on the trail of Dutch Henry Brown, only to find himself in a shooting competition against him. McAdam wins the prize, a one-in-a-thousand Winchester rifle, but Dutch steals it and leaves town. McAdam follows, intent on settling his old quarrel, while the rifle keeps changing hands and touching a number of lives.
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Westerns are not exactly the genre they used to be these days. There are a few that are made every once in a while, and so few of them actually capture that magic that was evident in classic Hollywood. 3:10 to Yuma and Appolosa are quite remarkable in their storytelling. But to really appreciate a quality western, you have to go back to the classic, and one in particular starred Hollywood’s favorite everyday man, James Stewart in Winchester 73.
In a marksmanship contest, Lin McAdam (Stewart) wins a prized Winchester rifle, which is immediately stolen by the runner-up, Dutch Henry Brown. This story of a rifle then follows McAdams’ pursuit and the rifle as it changes hands, until a final showdown and shoot-out on a rocky mountain precipice. This was the first of the western films Stewart stared in with director Anthony Mann.
In all five, he plays a man who is haunted by the past. The films make notable use of the landscape to portray the characters' feelings. The films are Winchester '73 (1950) Bend of the River (1952) The Naked Spur (1953) The Man from Laramie (1955) The Far Country (1955), all great classic films.
Throughout the film the rifle lands in the hands of other characters who are played by respected actors of that time. They include Rock Hudson and Tony Curtis. There’s also a nice performance from Shelly Winters who plays Lola, Stewart’s love interest. The film progresses into more of a character study rather than an all out gun battle which does occur towards the end. However you appreciate the fight even more as the film builds up to that moment and delivers great entertainment.
An interesting note about the film was that originally it was suppose to be directed by Fritz Lang. His idea was for the rifle to be a source of strength for Stewart and the other characters. The rifle was also Stewart’s only excuse for living making the quest for his rifle a matter of life and death. But the idea was dropped.
With Lang out of the picture, Universal produced the film itself with the up and coming Anthony Mann who was James Stewart's choice, directing. Mann changed the idea of the film through having another screenwriter named Borden Chase rewrite the film to make the rifle an actual character showing its adventures passing though the hands of a variety of people. The idea worked.
Winchester 73 is a great classic western. For those who are fans of James Stewart, you will be sure to enjoy this rather exceptional film. But more importantly, you’ll enjoy a western that relies on compelling storytelling than senseless gun battles. Look for it.