Winchester '73 (1950)
It's easy, when viewing James Stewart's filmography, to forget that he was in westerns. Being noted for more courtroom-like dramas like "Anatomy of a Murder" or "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", Stewart's western films often fade into the background. Yet, he made them throughout his career and they exemplify why he was such a talented actor.
"Winchester '73" is the story of the obsessive revere for a gun. The gun that changed the west forever, the Winchester 1873 was a pristine example of ingenuity in guns. Ironically enough, this movie could be used as a parable for gun restrictions; but that's another story....or another blog.
The movie begins as several famous gun slingers head into Dodge (literally) to shoot their way to a Winchester. This is the best of the best. It's a perfect gun, one in a thousand, the cream of the crop, the peak of firearms....okay, we get it, the gun's nice. Anyways, for whatever reason the Winchester company has decided that this perfect, priceless gun (of which it seems there are only two or three more) is not to be bought, but rather to be won.
In a Robin Hood-style of competition, to the winner go the spoils. Lin McAdam (James Stewart) arrives at Dodge in the stereotypical good-guy fashion. He helps the dames, he compliments the stable boys, and he dresses so chic-ly. Accidentally bumping into the sheriff, Wyatt Earp (Will Geer), Lin announces that he's here for the competition because he wants that gun. What he doesn't expect in Dodge is to bump into an old nemesis, Dutch Henry Brown (Stephen McNally). The two almost shoot each other in the bar before they realize that Earp has confiscated all the guns for fear of exactly this type of brawl.
They resign themselves to settle it on the shooting range, which turns out to be harder than first assumptions. Both of them are terrific shots and both of them nary miss a single mark; but Lin does end up getting the upper hand over Dutch.
Let the chaos reign. Dutch hightails it out of Dodge, but not before ambushing Lin and stealing the Winchester. Now humiliated and gun-less, Lin takes it upon himself to bring vengeance down upon Dutch's head. In essence, he's going to give one hell of a dutch rub....I couldn't resist.
It becomes a movie like "The Searchers" except with a gun instead of a girl. Lin tracks Dutch as Dutch runs for it.
The gun itself is the main star of the movie and switches hands unpredictably.
Yet this is not the reason that "Winchester '73" is interesting. The movie is good because it has strong characters and great performances. Take High Space (Millard Mitchell) for instance—the man is the typical "side kick" character, yet Mitchell breathes so much more into the character. He becomes a fully developed personality.
Like most westerns, "Winchester '73" doesn't hesitate to plunge right into the insanity. The melodrama becomes almost too much to handle, but the villains of the movie make up for the sympathetic tone the film sometimes takes.
Stewart is great, but the movie is just shy of it. For receiving top billing, Shelley Winters is on screen a very small portion of time and those moments are eaten up with screaming and other typical "woman things".
It is entertaining though, and a movie that's well worth seeing.
Posted by Micah Jones