Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Winchester '73

Anthony Mann's Winchester '73 starts off like your standard western: Lin McAdam (James Stewart) and "High-Spade" Frankie Wilson (Millard Mitchell) pass through Dodge City while on the trail of Dutch Henry Brown (Stephen McNally). Lin and Dutch compete in a shooting contest, where Lin wins the titular rifle (and Dutch promptly steals it). And that's where the story kicks off.

A simple premise, yes, but that's not the point of Winchester '73. As Mann demonstrated with Raw Deal two years before, it's more about the characters in the story, how their interactions shift the narrative. It was something Mann was good at depicting.

Stewart -- now in the second stage of his career -- drifts away from his idealistic screen image in favor of something a little darker. As he showed previously with It's a Wonderful Life and Rope, Stewart displays a cynical streak in Lin. And as later shown in Vertigo, he also displays a menacing one.

And Winchester '73 is photographed beautifully, thanks to cinematographer William H. Daniels. Hot off the heels of an Oscar win for The Naked City the year before, he goes from the looming buildings of New York City to the open outdoors of the western frontier. You genuinely feel that you're there.

Winchester '73 brought back the dying genre with a vengeance. Other westerns throughout the decade would have that nasty streak coursing through them, a morality more in focus than in years before. And a lot of that can be traced back to Mann and his film.

My Rating: ****1/2

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