Winchester ’73

Released:  1950

Cast:  James Stewart, Shelley Winters, Stephen McNally, Dan Duryea

SUMMARY:  In 1876, Lin McAdam (James Stewart) and “High-Spade” Frankie Wilson enter Dodge City, Kansas in search of an outlaw named “Dutch Henry” Brown (Stephen McNally).  Order in the town is maintained by Sheriff Wyatt Earp, whom the men meet when they see him forcing a dance-hall girl out of town on the stage.  Lin and High-Spade find Dutch Henry in one of the saloons, but because Earp does not allow any guns in town, they cannot fight it out.  While keeping an eye on Dutch Henry, Lin decides to enter the shooting contest that is being held in honor of the Fourth of July.  The prize for the contest is a Winchester 1873 rifle, one of the one-in-a-thousand models considered to be perfect.  The contest comes down to Lin and Dutch Henry; Lin finally wins by shooting through the center of a washer-shaped metal piece.  Dutch Henry and his men then announce that they are leaving town, but really lay in wait for Lin at his hotel; when he returns, they ambush him and steal the rifle.  The group goes to the isolated Riker’s Bar, where they meet an Indian trader selling guns.  None of the gang have their own guns, since they left Dodge City without retrieving them.  The trader offers Dutch Henry a good deal for the Winchester, and without the money to buy the guns otherwise, Dutch Henry takes the deal.  Dutch then tries to win the rifle back through cards, but loses the rest of his money.  After leaving Riker’s, the trader meets up with a group of Indians, led by Young Bull (a young Rock Hudson).  Young Bull has heard of Crazy Horse’s recent victory over Custer, in which the Indians used repeating rifles; he wants to buy this type of rifle, but the trader only has old, worn-out guns.  Young Bull then offers to buy the Winchester, but the trader refuses to sell.  When Dutch and his men catch up to the trader, they find that Young Bull and his men have killed, scalped and robbed him.

Meanwhile, the dance-hall girl forced out of town by Wyatt Earp, Lola Manners (Shelley Winters) is traveling to her new home with her fiancé Steve Miller.  During the trip, the two notice that they are being followed by a group of Indians.  Afraid that the bad wheel on the wagon will slow them down, Steve decides to ride ahead by himself and get help – leaving Lola by herself to face the Indians.  Steve actually does quickly find help, an encampment of U.S. Cavalry soldiers.  He returns to Lola, and the two make it to the soldiers safely.  Later that evening, Lin and High-Spade also join the encampment.  However, they are given some bad news by the sergeant:  the soldiers are surrounded by Indians, and have been pinned down for several days, with no hope of escape.  They know an attack will soon come.  Luckily for them, Lin has experience with fighting Indians, and is able to anticipate how the attack will occur.  Before the attack, Lin gives Lola his pistol and tells her to hide underneath the wagon:  he also lets her know that the last bullet is to be used on herself if necessary.  When the Indians attack, the soldiers are able to kill some of them, including Young Bull, and the rest of the Indians retreat.  Lin and High-Spade leave to keep looking for Dutch Henry, and ride right past the stolen Winchester lying on the ground.  A soldier finds it and gives it to the sergeant, who gives it to Steve as a token of appreciation.  Steve and Lola continue to the house of a friend, where Lola will stay while Steve does business with known outlaw “Waco” Johnnie Dean (Dan Duryea).  However, Waco ends up coming to Steve because he is being chased by a posse.  When he sees the Winchester, Waco determines to get it for himself, and provokes Steve until the man tries to draw on him.  Waco is much faster, and kills Steve, then takes the rifle.  When the posse catches up, Waco takes Lola with him and escapes to Dutch Henry’s hideout.  Dutch is surprised to see the rifle, and immediately takes it back from Waco.  The entire group of outlaws plans to rob a bank in Tascosa, Texas; unbeknownst to them, Lin has anticipated that Dutch will come there, and is waiting for him.  Before the robbery occurs, Lola tells Lin what is happening.  When Waco tries to shoot Lin, he is instead shot himself; Dutch Henry makes it out of town, but is chased by Lin.  The two chase each other around a rocky cliff, and Lin eventually shoots Dutch off the rocks.  Back in town, High-Spade tells Lola that Dutch Henry’s real name is Matthew, and that he is Lin’s brother.  Several years ago, Matthew had robbed a bank and tried to hide out at home:  his father had refused to let him do this, so Matthew shot him in the back.  As High-Spade finishes telling the story, Lin rides back into town, and Lola rushes to greet him.

MY TAKE:  The more Westerns I watch, the more I realize that they all have basically the same plot.  This one tries to shake it up with the brothers revelation, but it’s still essentially the same.  Some good guys, some bad guys, a chase through the countryside, a fight over a woman and a climactic shootout that the good guys win.  Like most other Westerns, this one has great scenery, but honestly, you stop noticing after a while.  Really, there are only a few things that set this movie apart for me:  it’s a Jimmy Stewart movie, and it has Wyatt Earp as a supporting character.  As far as the plot, I have to wonder about the wisdom of offering such a gun as a prize in a shooting contest in the Old West, especially in Dodge City.  Granted, Wyatt Earp is running the town, but it’s still a rather notorious place.  Also, like in most Westerns, some of the best shots are outlaws:  with the prize of a once-in-a-lifetime gun, you’re liable to draw out every criminal in the territory (which maybe is what Lin was counting on), and the winner would probably have the chance to use that gun very quickly (against the guys that were trying to take it from him, most likely).

RATING:  Routine.

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