Winchester ’73 (1950) – Anthony Mann

 

The next western recommendation following High Noon in the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book is this Jimmy Stewart classic.

The film tracks a Winchester rifle as Lin McAdam (Stewart) attempts to hunt it down after it is stolen by a murderous fugitive. The hunt begins in Dodge City where Wyatt Earp (Will Geer) is sheriff. The town is hosting a shooting contest (which has some great moments) for the Winchester, and McAdam is sure the contest will draw the attention of the fugitive he is hunting.

When Lin wins the rifle, Dutch Henry Brown (Stephen McNally) steals it and makes off with it. Lin is in hot pursuit. We follow as the rifle changes hands, until Lin has a final confrontation with Brown. Along the way he encounters some familiar faces like Rock Hudson as Young Bull and Tony Curtis as Doan.

Brown is forced to sell the gun after he loses all of his money at poker, and he proves very quickly how vicious and devious he is. McAdam trails him for days, refusing rest, and respite, attempting to catch up to Brown.

Shelley Winters plays Lola, who gets messed up with the Winchester when an attacking band of Native Americans, led by Young Bull, uses the rifle in an attack. She also gets caught up in the carnage and thread of the rifle.

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The rifle, Brown and McAdam circle around one another, seemingly inextricably intertwined, in a film that just gallops along, and finds Stewart completely at ease in the saddle.

Stewart has always been a reliable actor, and his performance in this film is as strong as any of them, and it helps that he’s surrounded by an equally talented cast. The story could have played as almost too coincidental as the rifle follows its course, passing hands from the good to the bad and back again.

Mann keeps the story moving, and as engaging as all the tales are, I was always eager for it to return to Stewart’s arc. Lin catches up with Brown and his gang, and then things play out in typical western fashion, showdowns, shootouts, and justice winning out in the end.

It’s an engaging film and honestly, it’s always a joy to watch Stewart in a film I haven’t seen yet. And sometimes you just want to settle in and watch a classic western. This one works, and is completely entertaining, though I’ve never cared for Winters, but everyone else is well cast and a lot of fun.

The most surprising thing is when McAdam gets mean, it’s a surprise for everyone, considering Stewarts’ nice guy persona. It’s a well-earned shock, and it works amazingly well.

There are secrets, revelations, and Stewart has to face those down, as well as the Winchester itself before the film’s end…

A solid western, with a great performance by Stewart.

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