[Join your host, John Holliday, in the review column "A Movie A Week" as he shares his spoiler-free thoughts on our collection of DVD / Blu-ray titles.]
In 1950, Jimmy Stewart starred in his fist of five Anthony Mann directed Westerns. In it, they tell a tale of revenge and the bonds of friendship and family that are easily broken for "The Gun that Won the West". The bonds that are broken for a Winchester '73.
In pursuit of his enemy, Dutch Henry, throughout the West, Lin McAdam (Stewart) and his friend Frankie "High-Spade" Wilson stroll into the next town on July 4, 1876. The town is Dodge City and Sherrif Wyatt Earp has locked up all the townsfolk's guns until after the holiday celebrations. That's a fact that both Lin and Dutch forget when they run into each other at the saloon and attempt to draw on one another. They manage to bottle their feelings until after the shooting contest for the most prized rifle in the West, a Winchester 1873.
Both men show their skill and conspicuously similar style but when Lin shoots through a hole in a ring, he wins the rifle. Before he can even get his name engraved on the stock, Lin McAdam is jumped by Dutch Henry and his men. Wyatt Earp chases them out of town and they take the bulletless Winchester '73 with them though they would have preferred to take Lin's life. As the story progresses, the rifle takes a journey through "Injun" territory and back that's just as exciting as Lin's hunt for Dutch. Eventually, all three are reunited and the reasoning behind the men's mutual hatred is revealed before a climactic gunfight with higher stakes than the audience ever knew.
There are a few things I'll never change my mind about and one is that James "Jimmy" Stewart is the best actor (male) of all time. Out of the ten movies I give a perfect rating, he stars in two (keep reading this column to find out what they are). He steals the show in every scene of every movie he's in and Winchester '73 is among his best. His character, McAdam is cooler than cool with a quick tongue and could easily have been a part of the Magnificient Seven. Also, look for Rock Hudson in one of his earliest roles as Indian Chief, Young Bull.
The rifle itself even seems to have a personality as we find ourselves captivated by its fate: who the final owner will be and how it will end up in his or her posession. Its story is just as central as Lin's vendetta and the two mesh together nicely in the end. This is a Western with everything in it except a traditional showdown in the middle of town. In no way do I mean it's cliché. It probably even invented some of the plot elements that we consider essential to the genre. But I will sum it up using a cliché. It's the be-all, end-all Western. That's why I give Winchester '73:
Just a quick interesting fact you may not have noticed when watching the movie: Jimmy Stewart's character Lin McAdams never fires the Winchester '73 rifle. Not even once.
What movie would you like to see John review next week? Your suggestions are always welcome at: firstname.lastname@example.org