WINCHESTER ’73 (1950)

   Jimmy Stewart, Shelley Winters, Dan Duryea, Stephen McNally, Anthony Mann (director)
   This noir Western is the first in the series of Westerns that Stewart made for Anthony Mann. The others are Bend of the River (1952), The Naked Spur (1953), The Far Country (1954), and The Man from Laramie (1955). Winchester ’73 is the only one in black and white. Winchester ’73 is one of the great revenge Westerns of the classic era, but the motive for revenge is deemphasized. Lin McAdam (Stewart) is more concerned with proving his superiority over his brother, Dutch Henry (McNally), than seeking revenge, even though Dutch had killed their father. Dutch is just bad; he wears the black hat. Nobody knows why he turned to bank robbery and outlawry early in life. We are expected to see McAdam as morally superior, although we are never told why; he wears the white hat. One of the best scenes is when Lin whips Waco Johnnie (Duryea) at the saloon bar. The rage in Stewart’s face reveals pure hatred. Duryea’s character is perfect—too perfect. We have to love him in all his crude badness. Of course, Lola (Winters) is intensely attracted to him. Her fiancee, Charles Drake (Steve Miller), plays the stereotypical coward. At one point, in sheer white-panic fear, he flees from the Indians leaving Lola at their mercy, which is unforgivable according to the masculine code. But he returns immediately and begins the process of redemption—which occurs when he attempts at last to save Lola in a gunfight (futile from the start) with Waco Johnnie. Rock Hudson plays an Indian chief, but his character is silly; nobody would think Young Bull is Native American. Tony Curtis also plays a bit part. The unifying plot device is the special gun, the Winchester ’73, only a 1,000 of which were made. The film follows the progress of the gun from one hand to another.

Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. . 2012.

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