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Winchester '73(1950)

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teaser Winchester '73 (1950)

SYNOPSIS

Lin McAdam rides into Dodge City, on the trail of Dutch Henry Brown, the man who killed his father. The town is abuzz due to a shooting contest in which the grand prize is a rare "One of One Thousand" edition of the Winchester 1873 Model rifle. Wyatt Earp officiates at the contest, in which McAdam wins the coveted firearm. Brown and his cronies blindside McAdam and steal the gun. With McAdam and his friend High-Spade Frankie Wilson in pursuit, the gun proceeds to change hands several times, ending up with an Indian trader, an Indian warrior, and a low-life named Waco Johnnie Dean. Along the way McAdam befriends Lola Manners, a saloon girl from Dodge City, and yet McAdam never loses sight of his quest for revenge.

Director: Anthony Mann
Producer: Aaron Rosenberg
Screenplay: Borden Chase, Robert L. Richards
Story: Stuart N. Lake
Cinematography: William Daniels
Editing: Edward Curtiss
Musical Director: Joseph Gershenson
Original Music: Walter Scharf
Art Direction: Bernard Herzbrun, Nathan Juran
Set Decoration: A. Roland Fields, Russell A. Gausman
Costumes: Yvonne Wood
Makeup: Bud Westmore
Cast: James Stewart (Lin McAdam), Shelley Winters (Lola Manners), Dan Duryea (Waco Johnnie Dean), Stephen McNally (Dutch Henry Brown), Millard Mitchell (High-Spade), Charles Drake (Steve Miller), John McIntire (Joe Lamont), Will Geer (Wyatt Earp), Jay C. Flippen (Sgt. Wilkes), Rock Hudson (Young Bull)
BW-92m.

Why WINCHESTER '73 is Essential

Winchester '73 was the first of several classic James Stewart/ Anthony Mann collaborations, and in it they point the way to the development of the modern western. Director Mann, working with writer Borden Chase, fashioned an episodic storyline which allowed him to both summarize the Western genre up to that point and to revitalize it at the same time. In the late 1940s, Mann specialized in Noir dramas, including those of the low-budget, gritty variety such as T-Men (1947) and Raw Deal (1948), as well as glossier Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer offerings like Border Incident (1949) and Side Street (1950). In Winchester '73, Mann brings his experience as a director of Noir to the story of a disparate group of characters who share a common characteristic: possession for a time of a rare Winchester repeating rifle. In his book Horizons West, Jim Kitses writes that "It was in the western that Mann was to weld together themes, structure and style to produce his most personal works. The drive towards enlarged character and heightened conflict found its natural canvas in the genre. His first efforts, the downbeat Indian picture, Devil's Doorway (1950), and The Furies (1950), a reworking of Dostoevsky's The Idiot...were dispiriting box-office failures. But Winchester '73 was a major break-through, sparking off the partnerships with Borden Chase and James Stewart, securing Mann's place within the industry, and announcing definitively his artistic arrival."

In his first released Western since Destry Rides Again (1939) a decade earlier, Stewart plays a morally ambiguous hero that is driven by revenge to the point of psychosis. Beyond Stewart, the film is sprinkled with memorable performances - Shelley Winters in an early role which points toward her later dramatic work; Stephen McNally as Dutch Henry Brown, the darker mirror image of Stewart's McAdam; Millard Mitchell in a more shaded variation of the standard western sidekick character; and especially Dan Duryea, as secondary villain Waco Johnnie Dean - a desperado with a brutal cruel streak. The film also offers up choice early roles for Rock Hudson, as a Native American warrior who comes into possession of the gun, and Tony Curtis, as a cavalry trooper.

Writer Chase and director Mann managed to incorporate into Winchester '73 many of the stock situations and characters that had become well known in westerns up to that time. In just a partial listing, the film features: a shoot-out, a runaway carriage, a rifle-shooting contest, a poker game, a bank robbery, a saloon fight, Indians attacking a cavalry, a duel to the death amongst rocky cliffs, and more. Anthony Mann would make four more important westerns with Stewart over the following five years, but perhaps none with the scope of Winchester '73; he explored nearly every Western convention, reshaping the form to his purpose. It is a credit to Mann and Chase that the story structure does not feel self-conscious - the viewer is swept up in the rapidly-changing situations. While the director is cataloging western conventions and mastering the genre, he is also reinventing the entire approach to typical cowboy conflicts and introducing a new level of inner psychology.

In her book on Mann, critic Jeanine Basinger writes "The reason why the film is pointed to as the beginning of the modern western is illustrated in the scene in which Stewart first sees his brother." In this scene, both men have arrived in Dodge City for a shooting contest, and Marshall Wyatt Earp has taken up all of the visitor's guns for safekeeping. When Stewart enters a saloon and spots the man he wants to kill,...both men jump, crouch, and draw with a demonical frenzy, only to realize that their shaking hands are empty. This scene has a shocking effect. For the first time, the devoted viewer of the western is forced to confront a subversive fact; that his noble hero of the west, that man who rides tall in the saddle off into the sunset, may be a flipping maniac....From Winchester '73 onward, the idea of the western hero as a man besieged by personal problems - violent and even psychotic - becomes increasingly prevalent in American films."

by John Miller

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teaser Winchester '73 (1950)

The Winchester rifle, along with the Colt 45, was probably the most well-known firearm of the West. Oliver Winchester (1810 - 1880) was an arms maker from New Haven, Connecticut. In 1858 he assigned one of his employees, Benjamin Tyler Henry, to design a repeating rifle. The resulting Henry rifle required newly-designed metal-cased ammunition, which was recharged by pulling down a trigger guard in a quick motion. It could fire 15 rounds. The gun was so popular that in 1866 the company was renamed the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, and introduced the Model 1866. The next refinement of the gun increased the cartridges to .44 caliber; this was the Winchester '73. There were only 133 One-of-a-Thousand Model 1873's made.

Winchester '73 was adapted to a one-hour radio program on the Lux Radio Theatre, broadcast on November 12, 1951 on CBS. James Stewart and Stephen McNally reprised their roles from the film.

In 1967 Universal re-made Winchester '73 as a made-for-television movie directed by Herschel Daugherty. Tom Tryon starred as Lin McAdam, joined by John Saxon as his brother "Dakin." Dan Duryea also appeared in the film, but as Bart McAdam, father of the brothers. The TV movie also starred John Drew Barrymore, Joan Blondell, John Dehner, and Paul Fix. It aired on March 14, 1967.

Dodge City Marshall Wyatt Earp is played in Winchester '73 by character actor Will Geer. In films from 1932, Geer appeared steadily until being blacklisted in 1951. He acted in only two films between 1951 and 1962. He became a familiar face again in films and television until his death in 1978. The role of Grandpa Walton in the TV series "The Waltons" (1972-1978) finally brought him wide recognition.

by John Miller

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teaser Winchester '73 (1950)

Winchester '73 was the first post-war western starring James Stewart to be released. It was not, however, the first one he filmed after returning to acting following his war service. Broken Arrow (1950), directed by Delmer Daves, was actually filmed first. 20th Century Fox head Darryl Zanuck held back release of the film so that it could be reedited, and he also wanted to see the public's reaction to Stewart in a cowboy role.

Winchester '73 was Tony Curtis' last film which carried his billing as "Anthony Curtis." Beginning with his next film, Kansas Raiders (1950), his billing became Tony Curtis.

James Stewart picked out a horse named Pie in 1949 to use in the film Winchester '73; he became very fond of the horse - the company that supplied Pie and other animals to film studios would never sell the horse to Stewart, yet Pie was available to Stewart for every western he made for the next twenty years. On the set of The Cheyenne Social Club (1970), Stewart's friend Henry Fonda presented the actor with a watercolor painting of Pie.

Rock Hudson would work again with Mann and Stewart, in Bend of the River (1952). By this time he was fourth-billed, and had a featured role as a gambler, Trey Wilson.

FAMOUS QUOTES from WINCHESTER '73 (1950)

High-Spade Frankie Wilson (Millard Mitchell): We've hit a lot of towns, Lin. What makes you think he'll be here?
Lin McAdam (James Stewart): He'll be here.
High-Spade: We've been wrong before.
McAdam: He'll be here.
High-Spade (indicating the prize Winchester in a window): On account of that?
McAdam: If he isn't here already, that gun'll bring him.

Wyatt Earp (Will Geer): It seems as when the Winchester people are turning out these here guns, every so often, maybe one gun out of every ten or twenty thousand - well, it comes out just perfect. Now naturally, it ain't for sale. I would give a year's wages for that gun, but money won't buy it. It wouldn't be right to sell it. So the Winchester people have given it a name. They call it "One of a Thousand."

Earp: Looks like you fellas might've learned [shooting] from the same man.
McAdam: He taught quite a few folks how to shoot. Trouble was, he taught 'em how - he didn't tell 'em what to shoot at.
Dutch Henry Brown (Stephen McNally): Maybe he figured a man should know that - without tellin'.
McAdam: Yeah - that was his big mistake. He lived just long enough to find it out.

Young Bull (Rock Hudson, to Indian Trader): All white men are thieves. In peace, they steal our land. In war, they kill our women. And you are a white man. If you want my gold, bring me the guns with which Crazy Horse and the Sioux of the North made their war at the Little Big Horn.

McAdam (giving a gun to Lola before an Indian attack): Say, uh... Just in case...
Lola Manners (Shelley Winters): I know how to use it. (There is a long look between the two, then): I understand about the last one.

Sgt. Wilkes (Jay C. Flippen): You're a man after my own stamp. Wish we'd have had you with us at Bull Run. We might not have run so fast.
McAdam: Well, I wanna tell you something. I was with you at Bull Run. So was High-Spade.
High-Spade: Only we was on the other side.

Waco Johnnie Dean (Dan Duryea): What was I saying?
Lola: You were talking about yourself.
Waco: Where did I stop?
Lola: You didn't. But you can now. I already know all about Waco Johnnie Dean, the fastest gun in Texas.
Waco: Texas? Lady, why limit me?

High-Spade: Well, that's the way it was. The old man sired two sons. One was no good... never any good. Robbed a bank...a stagecoach. Then when he came home and wanted to hide out, the old man wouldn't go for it. So Dutch shot him...in the back.

High-Spade: Did you ever wonder what he'd think about you hunting down Dutch Henry?
McAdam: He'd understand. He taught me to hunt.
High-Spade: Not men. Hunting for food, that's alright. Hunting a man to kill him? You're beginning to like it.
McAdam: That's where you're wrong. I don't like it. Some things a man has to do, so he does 'em.

High-Spade: Where's that Steve boy? Drinkin' whiskey?
Lola: He's dead.
High-Spade: Sudden, wasn't it?
Lola: Very. He was killed by that gentleman standing at the bar. The one that's looking at us.
High-Spade: Don't seem right for people to go around killing nice folks like...
Lola: He's not "people". He's Waco Johnnie Dean.

Compiled by John Miller

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teaser Winchester '73 (1950)

Winchester '73 had been floating around Universal as a project for several years in the late 1940s. Director Fritz Lang was initially attached to the project; Lang was already known for such westerns as The Return of Frank James (1940) and Western Union (1941), both made for 20th Century Fox. Press notices in 1946 announced Winchester '73, and that Lang would do location shooting in Utah, at Zion City National Park. Lang was to work from a screenplay by Robert L. Richards, based on a story by Stuart N. Lake. Lake stories had already been the basis for two other classics, William Wyler's The Westerner (1940) and John Ford's My Darling Clementine (1946). Lake was an expert on Wyatt Earp, so it is not surprising that, as with My Darling Clementine, the colorful historical figure turned up in another story. Lang was still attached to the Winchester '73 project in June of 1947, when another press release announced that he would film exteriors for his picture in Nevada.

Actor James Stewart, meanwhile, had been busy with his career since returning from his heroic service in World War II. Jumping between different studios, he had already made It's a Wonderful Life (1946) for Frank Capra's Liberty Films; Rope (1948), his first movie for Alfred Hitchcock; and starred in the biopic The Stratton Story (1949) at his old home studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Beginning on July 14, 1947, Stewart took over the Broadway role of Elwood P. Dowd in the Mary Chase play Harvey. Stewart was determined to secure the role in the Universal film of the play, and the resulting contract proved to be a groundbreaking one for a Hollywood actor. In his biography, James Stewart, Donald Dewey relates the story of the Universal deal. "...the actor's MCA agent Lew Wasserman encountered Universal chief William Goetz at a party during the summer of 1949 and mentioned Stewart's enthusiasm for starring in the film version of Harvey, the play he had already done twice on Broadway. Goetz, in turn, was more interested in talking about a western that had been gathering dust at the studio for quite a number of years. The last point on which the principals agreed in later accounts was that Wasserman mentioned that Stewart's asking price was $200,000 and Goetz replied that Universal couldn't manage such a steep salary. Depending on the source, it was then either the studio head or the agent who proposed the idea of Stewart doing both Harvey and the western Winchester '73, for a percentage of the profits."

The deal itself was not unusual; Abbott and Costello already had a profit participation contract with the studio. What was unusual was the sizable chunk of the revenues that Stewart would see from the films. As Stewart later said, "The truth is that I'm a very poor mathematician. I kept flunking algebra although I could do something called descriptive geometry. I've never been very close to the financial part of the picture business but when it [profit participation] was suggested to me, it seemed a logical and sensible way of looking at it. You were much more part of the picture because you had more at stake in the outcome." Harvey, though fondly regarded today, was actually a box-office disappointment in 1950. Winchester '73, though, was a financial hit for the studio. Over a period of several years, it is estimated that Stewart made a half-million dollars from his participation in the film - an astronomical sum for an actor to make from one movie in the early 1950s. Goetz was the son-in-law of MGM chief Louis B. Mayer, Stewart's one-time boss. Mayer saw the percentage deal as another example of the whittling-away of the powers of the studio system, and, no doubt with an eye toward his own stars still under contract at MGM, he famously accused Goetz of allowing "the lunatics to take over the asylum."

By the time Stewart had been attached to the project, Fritz Lang had dropped out as director of Winchester '73. Stewart himself suggested a replacement. He admired the work done on the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer western Devil's Doorway (1950), and though he had never worked with the director before, Stewart recommended Anthony Mann be hired to direct Winchester '73. Mann brought in Borden Chase to re-write the Richards script. Chase had just had a great success co-writing the screenplay to Howard Hawks' classic western Red River (1948), an adaptation of Chase's story "The Chisholm Trail." Mann himself later said the film "...was one of my biggest successes. And it's also my favorite western. The gun which passed from hand to hand allowed me to embrace a whole epoch, a whole atmosphere. I really believe that it contains all the ingredients of the western, and that it summarizes them."

by John Miller

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teaser Winchester '73 (1950)

Authenticity was important to both James Stewart and Anthony Mann, so the actor began preparations well in advance of filming on Winchester '73. Stewart had been known to research roles and practice for hours to look convincing in a character's physical task, such as baseball for The Stratton Story (1949). As Mann later described, "[Stewart] was magnificent walking down a street with a Winchester rifle cradled in his arm. And he was great too actually firing the gun. He studied hard at it. His knuckles were raw with practicing... It was those sorts of things that helped make the film look so authentic, gave it its sense of reality." An expert from the Winchester company, Herb Parsons, actually did the trick shooting required for the film, and assisted Stewart in his training.

Shelley Winters was worried upon finding out that both she and Stewart thought that their best-photographed side was their left side, but she found that Stewart would yield in their close-ups. As she later said, "A couple of Left Profiles don't make for a convincing love scene when the two of them are staring off in the same direction. Since he was the star... I knew who'd be told to turn right. I couldn't have been more wrong. One morning Tony Mann came to me and said that Jimmy wanted me to be shot from the left because he knew that the whole thing was making me anxious. Naturally, Jimmy never said a word to me directly."

Shelley Winters would not have her dramatic breakthrough until her role in George Stevens' A Place in the Sun (1951) the following year; although she gave an excellent performance in Winchester '73, it is clear from her later comments that she didn't think much of the role: "Here you've got all these men... running around to get their hands on this goddam rifle instead of going after a beautiful blonde like me. What does that tell you about the values of that picture? If I hadn't been in it, would anybody have noticed?"

Stewart, Mann and screenwriter Borden Chase seemed very conscious of the fact that Stewart's 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."

Stewart was almost universally praised for his performance, and in particular for a new "maturity" in his acting style. Stewart later commented, saying "You might call it a desperation move. [After the war] I found that I was relying on the sort of romantic comedy style I had developed before the war. I'd sort of fallen back on it. But it wasn't accepted. The public seemed to want either the wild, slapstick type of comedy or pretty serious stuff..." In a 1990 interview with the New York Times, Stewart was asked specifically about the "toughening up" of his character in Winchester '73, and his reply was typically casual: "The very idea of changing my whole thing from the sort of shy, fumbling fellow to the western was just my work. It's all hard work and dedication, to be able to make a go of it. And those were the things offered to me."

by John Miller

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teaser Winchester '73 (1950)

Critical reaction to Winchester '73 was mostly positive, though often condescending; many saw the plot to be essentially a grab-bag of Western cliches. The only critic who seems to have missed the point, and the entire tone of the film, is Bosley Crowther:

There you have it: simple, direct and action-crammed - and, as Universal presents it, good-humored and tongue-in-cheek, too. For neither the script of Robert L. Richards and Borden Chase nor the direction of Anthony Mann have taken the formula too seriously or the cliches as anything but larks. The dialogue is humorous, the characters are broadly picturesque and, as a matter of fact, the whole picture has the nature of a marginal burlesque. As the cowboy hero, Mr. Stewart drawls and fumbles comically, recalling his previous appearance as a diffident cowpoke in "Destry Rides Again"...Dan Duryea completely clowns the villainies of the reckless highwayman and Stephen McNally is as dark as thunder in the role of the original thief....It is far from the mature outdoor drama that might be brilliantly filmed around a gun. It's just a frisky, fast-moving, funny Western in which a rifle is the apple of a cowboy's eye. - Bosley Crowther, the New York Times, June 8, 1950.

Stewart brings real flavor and appeal to the role of Lin, in a lean, concentrated portrayal that is completely convincing. He's supported by a cast that, even in the bit roles, makes each character a standout. McNally is hard and unbending as the runaway, patricidal brother. Mitchell lends warmth as Stewart's loyal henchman and friend. Shelley Winters is just sufficiently hard-bitten and cynical as the dancehall girl mauled about by sheriffs and bandits. Dan Duryea comes into the film in its latter part only as a trigger-happy cutthroat, but makes each appearance felt...Direction and pace are on a par with performances. - Brog, Variety, June 7, 1950.

Winchester '73 is a crisp western in which a handsome repeating rifle ("the gun that won the West") inspires such yearning, fondling and fighting as not even horses, let alone heroines, ordinarily provoke....Before the hunt ends, the rifle is lost & found by half a dozen other characters, giving director Anthony Mann plenty of story line to tie together some classic horse-opera situations. Among the episodes: the scalping of a crooked trader by redskins; a deafening battle between Indians and the U.S. cavalry; the ambush of desperados in a burning house; a bank holdup and, finally, an exciting rifle duel on the side of a craggy cliff. Strikingly photographed in black & white, the film is directed with an eye to realistic detail, an ear for the script's frequently natural dialogue and a knack for building suspense. It also has some good performances by Dan Duryea, John McIntire and Millard Mitchell, as well as actors Stewart and McNally. Heroine Shelley Winters, who seems lost in all the uproar, might as well have been lost in the script. - Time, June 19, 1950.

The seductive heroine of this appendix to the well-thumbed history of the old West is Shelley Winters. But neither the good guy in the cast (James Stewart), nor the two major bad guys (Stephen McNally and Dan Duryea) show nearly as much interest in her as they do in a brand-new Winchester repeater rifle (model 1873). The new-fangled weapon is capable of killing a lot of Indians and/or cavalrymen. And once it gets stolen from its original owner (Stewart), it changes hands often enough to take its toll of both. But for all its eleven-shot capacity, the '73 lacks the personality to justify the blood shed on its behalf. At best, this well-directed but poorly motivated saga of the "gun that won the West" serves as a doubtlessly merited tribute to the Winchester Repeating Arms Co. - Newsweek, July 3. 1950.

Mann's first film with James Stewart, with whom he was to make a series of classic Westerns, this offers the clearest example of Mann's use of the revenge plot. Hero (Stewart) and villain (McNally) are brothers who have been taught to shoot by their father. After McNally murders the father, Stewart sets out to seek revenge and so prove himself worthy of his father's name, symbolized by the perfect Winchester Stewart wins in a shooting contest and McNally steals from him. So begins the long chase to one of the most neurotic shootouts in the history of the Western. - Phil Hardy, Time Out Film Guide.

Mann's Westerns are psychological, and his best heroes are beset by self-doubt. But it's too big a stretch to call those films neurotic when they revel in the beauty of daylight, space, and distance. Rather, I would suggest that Mann discovered his own Western sensibility, which was to see human stories as small, and even aberrant, in the vastness of terrain. Thus, Winchester '73 is a round, a circle, that needs huge horizons..." - David Thomson, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film.

"Mann's first western with Stewart is often a throwback. Though purposefully stripped of Fordian sentimentality and transcendence, Winchester '73 has many counterparts in plot, characters, and settings, to the 1930s and 1940s films of John Ford, especially Stagecoach and My Darling Clementine...The most radical thing about Winchester '73 is that its protagonist is not the locus of western myth. What's held in awe, what's fetishized throughout the movie, both by characters who clutch it and fondle it and by Anthony Mann's camera, is that titular rifle. Practically every scene starts and ends by Mann focusing on it in close-up, and it appears in many scenes from which Lin is absent." - Gerald Peary, The A List: 100 Essential Films (Da Capo Press).

"Classic adult western...What makes it special are the unusual characterizations and interesting relationships. The characters have all made choices about how they want to spend their lives. There's fine, unpretentious dialogue." - Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic (Fireside).

"Stewart, in career doldrums, made a comeback in two Westerns that were filmed back-to-back: this one and Broken Arrow [1950]. Although Broken Arrow was the bigger of the two (filmed in color, this one is black-and-white) and received more attention because of its theme, Winchester '73 is the superior film." - Brian Garfield, Western Films: A Complete Guide (Rawson Associates).

"First rate in every way, this landmark film was largely responsible for renewed popularity of Westerns in the 1950s." - Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide (Plume).

"Entertaining, popular, hard-riding, hard-shooting Western of the old school." - Halliwell's Film & Video Guide (HarperPerennial).

Compiled by John Miller & Jeff Stafford

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teaser Winchester '73 (1950)

SYNOPSIS: Lin McAdam rides into Dodge City, on the trail of Dutch Henry Brown, the man who killed his father. The town is abuzz due to a shooting contest in which the grand prize is a rare "One of One Thousand" edition of the Winchester 1873 Model rifle. Wyatt Earp officiates at the contest, in which McAdam wins the coveted firearm. Brown and his cronies blindside McAdam and steal the gun. With McAdam and his friend High-Spade Frankie Wilson in pursuit, the gun proceeds to change hands several times, ending up with an Indian trader, an Indian warrior, and a low-life named Waco Johnnie Dean. Along the way McAdam befriends Lola Manners, a saloon girl from Dodge City, and yet McAdam never loses sight of his quest for revenge.

Winchester '73 was the first of several classic James Stewart/ Anthony Mann collaborations, and in it they point the way to the development of the modern western. Director Mann, working with writer Borden Chase, fashioned an episodic storyline which allowed him to both summarize the Western genre up to that point and to revitalize it at the same time. In the late 1940s, Mann specialized in Noir dramas, including those of the low-budget, gritty variety such as T-Men (1947) and Raw Deal (1948), as well as glossier Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer offerings like Border Incident (1949) and Side Street (1950). In Winchester '73, Mann brings his experience as a director of Noir to the story of a disparate group of characters who share a common characteristic: possession for a time of a rare Winchester repeating rifle. In his book Horizons West, Jim Kitses writes that "It was in the western that Mann was to weld together themes, structure and style to produce his most personal works. The drive towards enlarged character and heightened conflict found its natural canvas in the genre. His first efforts, the downbeat Indian picture, Devil's Doorway (1950), and The Furies (1950), a reworking of Dostoevsky's The Idiot...were dispiriting box-office failures. But Winchester '73 was a major break-through, sparking off the partnerships with Borden Chase and James Stewart, securing Mann's place within the industry, and announcing definitively his artistic arrival."

In his first released Western since Destry Rides Again (1939) a decade earlier, Stewart plays a morally ambiguous hero that is driven by revenge to the point of psychosis. Beyond Stewart, the film is sprinkled with memorable performances - Shelley Winters in an early role which points toward her later dramatic work; Stephen McNally as Dutch Henry Brown, the darker mirror image of Stewart's McAdam; Millard Mitchell in a more shaded variation of the standard western sidekick character; and especially Dan Duryea, as secondary villain Waco Johnnie Dean - a desperado with a brutal cruel streak. The film also offers up choice early roles for Rock Hudson, as a Native American warrior who comes into possession of the gun, and Tony Curtis, as a cavalry trooper.

Writer Chase and director Mann managed to incorporate into Winchester '73 many of the stock situations and characters that had become well known in westerns up to that time. In just a partial listing, the film features: a shoot-out, a runaway carriage, a rifle-shooting contest, a poker game, a bank robbery, a saloon fight, Indians attacking a cavalry, a duel to the death amongst rocky cliffs, and more. Anthony Mann would make four more important westerns with Stewart over the following five years, but perhaps none with the scope of Winchester '73; he explored nearly every Western convention, reshaping the form to his purpose. It is a credit to Mann and Chase that the story structure does not feel self-conscious - the viewer is swept up in the rapidly-changing situations. While the director is cataloging western conventions and mastering the genre, he is also reinventing the entire approach to typical cowboy conflicts and introducing a new level of inner psychology.

In her book on Mann, critic Jeanine Basinger writes "The reason why the film is pointed to as the beginning of the modern western is illustrated in the scene in which Stewart first sees his brother." In this scene, both men have arrived in Dodge City for a shooting contest, and Marshall Wyatt Earp has taken up all of the visitor's guns for safekeeping. When Stewart enters a saloon and spots the man he wants to kill,...both men jump, crouch, and draw with a demonical frenzy, only to realize that their shaking hands are empty. This scene has a shocking effect. For the first time, the devoted viewer of the western is forced to confront a subversive fact; that his noble hero of the west, that man who rides tall in the saddle off into the sunset, may be a flipping maniac....From Winchester '73 onward, the idea of the western hero as a man besieged by personal problems - violent and even psychotic - becomes increasingly prevalent in American films."

Director: Anthony Mann
Producer: Aaron Rosenberg
Screenplay: Borden Chase, Robert L. Richards
Story: Stuart N. Lake
Cinematography: William Daniels
Editing: Edward Curtiss
Musical Director: Joseph Gershenson
Original Music: Walter Scharf
Art Direction: Bernard Herzbrun, Nathan Juran
Set Decoration: A. Roland Fields, Russell A. Gausman
Costumes: Yvonne Wood
Makeup: Bud Westmore
Cast: James Stewart (Lin McAdam), Shelley Winters (Lola Manners), Dan Duryea (Waco Johnnie Dean), Stephen McNally (Dutch Henry Brown), Millard Mitchell (High-Spade), Charles Drake (Steve Miller), John McIntire (Joe Lamont), Will Geer (Wyatt Earp), Jay C. Flippen (Sgt. Wilkes), Rock Hudson (Young Bull)
BW-93m. Closed captioning.

by John Miller

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