Oh, James Stewart. How iconic and everlasting you are, despite giving almost the exact same performance in every film you are in, especially the westerns. Here, we have Stewart’s first collaboration with Anthony Mann, in what would go on to become a pseudo-series of eight films, five of them Westerns, most of which are highly regarded. This, Winchester ’73, is the only one of the three on the list not in color; it still has quite the expansive vistas to offer, regardless, and the story is quite original, to say the least.
The story this time isn’t so much about a man, or even a few men, as it is about probably one of the best MacGuffins in all of cinema: a rifle. The titular Winchester, a “one-in-a-thousand” rifle, prized by any who have the fortune to own one. One, in particular, is given as first prize in a rifle-shooting contest in one Dodge City, a prize won by Stewart’s character, Lin McAdam. The gun, however, is stolen by an outlaw that McAdam is trailing, and from there we follow the gun as it goes through a host of owners, each one as ill-fated as the last, while we also tag along with McAdam as he tracks down the gun and the man who took it. While the story is the obvious hook, the film is more than capable of holding up with the best of Westerns; it doesn’t overtly display its affections for the landscape like most other western flicks, but it’s still there, as are the other well-known tropes that define the genre.
The ending may be a bit of a letdown, at least for me; there’s a lot of shooting without anyone ever getting anywhere, and the final shot offers no release of tension or relief that the bad guy got it; it’s just there, and that’s all. Of course, you know the bad guy’s gonna get it in the end and the good guy, Stewart, is gonna get his rifle back; you’re not watching a film like this for the surprising twists in the plot, but for the atmosphere and the charm of a good old fashioned Western, and to that end, this film delivers in a lot of ways. I know I haven’t mentioned much, but really, there’s not a whole lot of mentioning the film does about itself; it’s much like the ending, it simply is. I still liked it a lot, and as long as you don’t inexplicably hate westerns or Jimmy Stewart, I think you’ll find this to be easy to like as well.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10