Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Winchester '73 review

Winchester '73 (1950)
Dir. Anthony Mann
Starring James Stewart, Shelley Winters, Stephen McNally

After winning a prized rifle in a shooting contest, Lin McAdams is attacked, and the weapon is stolen. From there the story follows the gun as it moves from owner to owner.

This film was the first collaboration between Stewart and Mann. They would go on to make 5 westerns together*, but those films (along with the Ranown films) were responsible for the transition of westerns to more of a grown up entertainment as opposed to the more simpler, family entertainment of the thirties and forties. And a lot of that has to be attributed to Borden Chase, the writer responsible for this film, and the earlier John Wayne film Red River, and the later Stewart/Mann collaboration Bend of the River, amongst other films. Mann was brought on after the original director Fritz Lang(!) left the project over differences in visions for the film. Stewart wanted Mann to direct, and Mann and Chase reworked the film to follow the path of the gun rather than a more traditional movie where Jimmy Stewart would be on a quest to get his gun back. But the changes make the film more interesting, giving time to a kind of sleazy gun runner, an Indian chief, a cowardly jerk named oddly named Steve Miller, and bandit called Waco that each get their hands on the titular rifle for a brief period of time.

The movie starts off seeming like a simple revenge story, with McAdams on the hunt for Stephen McNally's Dutch Henry Brown. The men have a history prior to the story beginning, and McAdam's hunt for Brown intensifies after the gun is stolen. As the story goes on the more is slowly revealed about the two men and their pasts, and it's exactly what you would expect it to be if you have seen any western before. In some ways it feels more like a noir, which makes sense as that is what Mann had been making prior to this. Lot of the dialogue has a bit of a noir feel, as does the cinematography, which is an impressive feat for a movie that mostly takes place during daylight hours.

Stewart is good as the lead. One of his biggest strengths was that he seemed like a average man, but he was able to bring up a ton of anger and darkness when the film required it. This movie has him set on revenge, and the only reason that he ended up in the contest for the rifle was because he was so driven to get revenge against Dutch Henry Brown. As the movie goes on the scenes with McAdams and his friend/partner High Spade (Millard Mitchell) further develop his character, painting the picture of a man that really doesn't know what he would do without his quest for vengeance. This is really not like anything that he had down before.

But the movie is really great in terms of the supporting cast. Rock Hudson plays the Indian chief Young Bull, and even though he isn't on screen for very long, he is really engaging in his brief role. But it is easy to see why he became a star, he just has a ton of screen presence. Noted character actor Jay C. Flippen has one of the more fun roles in the film as Sgt. Wilkes. His scenes with Shelley Winters are funny and sweet, and I probably could of watched an entire movie about him and his men, which surprisingly had Tony Curtis for a brief moment in the film, in an early role of Doan, one of Wilkes soldiers.

This movie is a necessary watch for anyone interested in westerns. This is a classic, and it deserves it's reputation. It's one of those movies that seems so easy and simple, but at the same time it's such an amazingly well crafted and structured movie that it could only be made by a master. Highly recommended.

* 5 were westerns out of the the 8 films they made together.

No comments:

Post a Comment