Combustible Celluloid
Stream it:
Download at i-tunes iTunes
Own it:
With: James Stewart, Shelley Winters, Dan Duryea, Stephen McNally, Millard Mitchell, Charles Drake, John McIntire, Will Geer, Jay C. Flippen, Rock Hudson, John Alexander, Steve Brodie, James Millican, Abner Biberman, Tony Curtis
Written by: Borden Chase, Robert L. Richards, based on a story by Stuart N. Lake
Directed by: Anthony Mann
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 92
Date: 07/12/1950

Winchester '73 (1950)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Get Your Gun

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

At one time, the phrase "action director" didn't mean a technician who knew how to stage the biggest explosions. It meant someone who understood the psychology of action, the reasons behind it. American studios were full of great ones: Raoul Walsh, Howard Hawks, Don Siegel, Samuel Fuller, and, of course, Anthony Mann.

After trying his hand as an actor, Mann (1906-67) wound up directing screen tests for David O. Selznick's Gone With the Wind and Rebecca. He moved up to directing "B" movies for RKO, and created such classics as T-Men and Raw Deal. In the early 1950s James Stewart was trying to re-establish a foothold in Hollywood after serving in WWII and being absent from movie screens for four years. He linked up with Mann on a low-profile Western called Winchester '73 that went on to change all the rules of the genre and become one of its greatest achievements. Together, Mann and Stewart explore the Western's dark side, the vicious, violent underbelly that debunks the simple idea of good guys vs. bad guys.

Stewart plays Lin McAdam, a haggard-looking cowboy with a grimy, sweat-stained hat (he wore the same hat in all his Westerns) who signs up for a rifle-shooting contest. First prize is the coveted title gun, an absolutely perfect specimen that makes any cowboy drool. Stewart wins the gun, but loses it to a bandit just moments later. Mann follows the gun as it gets passed from owner to owner, with Stewart just a few jumps behind it the whole time. At the same time, he's looking to get revenge on the man who killed his father. When Stewart first sees his prey in a bar, both men instinctively jump for their guns -- which are not there (sheriff Wyatt Earp has taken them away). The surge of adrenaline leaves both shaking and twitchy, and we feel it too. Whenever characters in Winchester '73 aren't wearing a gun, they describe themselves as "naked."

In the final moments, Stewart releases a powerful, quivering fury that was only scarcely evident in his previous films like It's a Wonderful Life and not at all in films like Harvey.

This great, black-and-white DVD comes with a Jimmy Stewart commentary track that was recorded in the mid-90s for the laserdisc release. Mann and Stewart tapped into this darkness for four more exemplary, hit Westerns, Bend of the River (1952), The Naked Spur (1953), The Far Country (1954), and The Man from Laramie (1955). They also made three other pictures together, a war movie: Strategic Air Command (1955) an oil-rig adventure Thunder Bay (1953), and the biopic The Glenn Miller Story (1953).

Movies Unlimtied