“Some things a man has to do — so he does ’em.”
A sharpshooter (Jimmy Stewart) arriving in Dodge City with his longtime friend (Millard Mitchell) wins a coveted Winchester ’73 rifle in a shooting contest, but it’s stolen by his rival (Stephen McNally), who then loses the gun to an “Indian trader” (John McIntire), who is scalped by Chief Young Bull (Rock Hudson). Eventually the gun lands in the hands of a cowardly man (Charles Drake) engaged to a dance hall girl (Shelley Winters) who has a crush on Stewart. Drake’s outlaw partner (Dan Duryea) steals the gun from Drake, but loses it back to McNally. Who will finally end up with the gun — and the girl (Winters)?
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “classic adult western by Anthony Mann, the first of five he directed with James Stewart”, has “excellent action sequences” as well as “unusual characterizations”, “interesting relationships”, and “unpretentious dialogue”. Indeed, it’s likely my favorite of the five, given that all elements of the rotating storyline (a la Ophuls’ La Ronde) help build a complex tableau of an Old West filled with classic tropes of the genre: a Cain-and-Abel brother-revenge tale; trigger-happy villains with plenty of guns; a “loose” woman (Winters) eager to settle down with a “real” man (Stewart); skirmishes with Native Americans; and male dominance hierarchies establishing tentative order in a lawless, violence-ridden landscape. The characterizations are indeed “unusual”, and quite rich, especially given how often the storyline shifts from one set of characters to another. I like how additional insights into motivation are gradually revealed; how the seemingly disparate storylines eventually converge; and how subplots (i.e., Winters’ dismay over her fiance’s unexpected cowardice during an Indian raid) turn into essential elements of the narrative (Winters plays an unexpectedly pivotal role in the film’s final outcome). Mann’s direction, William Daniels’ cinematography, and the range of supporting performances (including dependable baddie Duryea) are top-notch throughout.
Note: This film’s pacing, episodic western narrative, and cast of diverse characters put me in mind of Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight (2015).
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
Yes, as a classic of the genre. Nominated by Peary as one of the Best Pictures of the Year in his Alternate Oscars.
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)