In a marksmanship contest, Lin McAdam 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. Written by
Herman Seifer <firstname.lastname@example.org>
James Stewart, Anthony Mann and screenwriter Borden Chase seemed very conscious of the fact that McAdam was a clear break from the sort of hero the actor was previously associated with. Chase, in fact, narrowed down the transition to the moment that McAdam confronts Dan Duryea's character in a saloon, smashing his face down onto the bar. As Chase was quoted in Donald Dewey's James Stewart, "When the picture was given a sneak preview, there had even been some titters in the audience at seeing Stewart's name in the opening titles of a western. ...But once he smashed Duryea in that bar, there would be no more snickering." In his book Horizons West, Jim Kitses later echoed this observation when he wrote, "Lin's destruction of Waco is consequently a key moment since it both satisfies our moral expectations and disturbs them, our identification with the hero jarred by the naked violence with which he sets about the villain." See more »
When Lin and High Spade leave Rikers, they are supposed to be riding at night. However, when they are fleeing the pursuing braves, the sun is clearly visible behind the ridge they ride along. See more »
The film's opening prologue states: 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 . . . See more »
In 1942 a film TALES OF MANHATTAN told a set of stories that were basically unrelated, but tied together with a suit of men's evening wear. Each story began when the "tails" were passed from one owner (Charles Boyer, for instance) to another (Ceasar Romero). WINCHESTER '73, a superior film, and a great western, has a similar plot twist. Initially it is about how Jimmy Stewart is seeking Stephen (Horace) MacMahon for some deadly grudge. But in the course of the film the two men get into a shooting contest, the prize (given by Marshall Wyatt Earp - Will Geer) being one of the new Winchester rifles. Stewart barely beats out MacMahon, but the gun is stolen from Stewart, and the chase is on.
The gun passes from hand to hand, including John McIntyre (as an arrogant trader who fatally does not know when to stop being arrogant), to Rock Hudson (in a surprising role - and a brief one at that), to Charles Drake, to Dan Duryea (as the delightfully deadly and psychotic Waco Johnny Dean), to MacMahon. Eventually it does return to Stewart.
The film is expertly directed by Anthony Mann. Every character has a wide variety of experiences. Duryea gets the rifle literally over Drake's dead body (Duryea forces the issue). But he loses it to MacMahon, who is faster on the draw - not that Duryea is stupid enough to fight for the rifle. As he and Shelley Winter look at MacMahon in the distance, Winter (who watched Duryea kill her former boy friend Drake) drops her distaste for the gunman momentarily to ask why he put up with MacMahon's bullying for the gun. Philosophically, Duryea explains he can wait. Some opportunity will come up later on (i.e., when he can safely kill MacMahon and get back the rifle).
The characters are remarkably human. Winters first appears as the future bride of Drake, but she sees a really big negative side to him - an unforgivable side. Drake is aware of this lapse, and it helps lead to his destruction. Other characters have realistic touches, such as J.C. Flippen as an army sergeant who fights an Indian attack with Steward and Steward's friend Millard Mitchell. Oh yes, and with Flippen's fellow soldier - Tony Curtis. Flippen makes one believe this soldier has been on a hundred battlefields before, since 1861 probably. Steward had showed emotions in other films. In IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE he showed a degree of anger at times, and also a near nervous breakdown when he thinks everything is wrong with his life. But here he showed a demonic anger - at the expense of a surprised Duryea (who normally would show such anger himself).
The parts of this film fit very neatly together, under Mann's competent hands. This is one western that never wears out, as the audience watches the travels of a Winchester rifle.
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