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.
Some things a man has to do, so he does 'em.
This is a story of the Winchester Rifle Model 1873 "The Gun That Won The West" - To cowman, outlaw, peace officer or soldier, the Winchester 73 was a treasured possession. An Indian would sell his soul to own one...
Winchester '73 is the first collaboration between director Anthony Mann and actor James Stewart, a duo that would go on to create a run of superior Westerns that added a new psychological depth to the genre. The story sees Stewart as Lin McAdam, who is pursuing the man who killed his father. Riding into Dodge City with his trusty friend, Johnny Williams (Millard Mitchell), Lin runs into Dutch Henry Brown (Stephen McNally), the man he wants. But with Wyatt Earp (Will Geer) having taken all the guns from those entering the town, both men are unable to have the shoot-out that they are ready for. The men instead square up in a competition to win a Winchester 73 rifle, a competition that Lin eventually wins. But before he can leave town with the magnificent prize, Dutch ambushes him, steals the rifle and skips town fast. As Lin sets off in hate filled pursuit of both man and rifle, the rifle will changed hands a number of times, with each time adding another dimension as the day of reckoning for all approaches.
Very much a benchmark for what became known as the so-called "psychological Western", Winchester '73 is basically a story of a decent man driven to borderline insanity by an event in his past. Though shot in black and white (the only one of the duos Westerns that was) the landscapes are still breath taking feasts for the eyes. The tone is set with the opening scene as Lin and Johnny on horseback, and in silhouette, amble over a hillside as they make their way to Dodge City. It's just the starting point that would see Mann use his vistas as a way of running concurrent with his characters emotional states.
Stewart gives one of his finest and most intense performances as McAdam, proving once and for all that he was one of America's finest and most versatile actors. The support cast isn't too bad either. Shelley Winters is excellent as the sole female in amongst the machismo, while Mitchell, McNally, Geer and the always great Dan Duryea add further class to proceedings. There's even bit parts for Tony Curtis and Rock Hudson in here, though the latter playing an Indian brave is a stretch too far.
Originally the film was a project for Fritz Lang, who even had the script ready to run. But Lang walked away from it, something that proved to be a blessing for Western fans. For as great as a director that Lang was, with Mann directing (and with a new script from Borden Chase & Robert Richards in hands) it set the wheels in motion to alter the course of the genre. Not only with the further efforts that Mann & Stewart produced, but also in who they influenced. The likes of Budd Boetticher, Nicholas Ray and Sam Fuller were all taking notes, and gleefully for the Western purists, they followed suit and carried the psychological torch still further.
A big hit at the box office back on release, Winchester '73 is a magnificent film that still packs a punch in the modern age. 9/10
Universal International Pictures by Anthony Mann, Robert L. Richards, Borden Chase, Stuart N. Lake.
Stars: James Stewart, Shelley Winters, Dan Duryea, Stephen McNally.
Genres: Action, Drama, Western
Keywords: robbery showdown horseback riding hostility assault shooting rifle stealing search contest poker game horse and carriage fourth of july winchester rifle prize u.s. cavalry
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