Winchester '73 (Anthony Mann, 1950)
In the vein of Great Wersterns Winchester '73 is often overlooked. It's obvious that the Western spaghetti genre revolutionned or revisionnized the way Western were made. But before this revolution, the genre always been one of the most popular in American Cinema. Many directors made Westerns but they are quit a few that could handle it like John Ford or Howard Hawks. Sometimes, you can add Fritz Lang to this list but Anthony Mann is often forgotten. Bend of the River, Man From Laramie, Man of the West, The Far Country just to name a few and Winchester '73 will be observed here are Mann's most popular Westerns.
The title of the film refers to one of the best gun a man "cowboy" could own. We follow its path through different hands. From the man (James Stewart) who won it in a shooting contest to the worst bandit of its region. With Shelley Winters as the woman (romantic relief of the story), a young Tony Curtis as a soldier and Rock Hudson as the Indians wild chief.
As always James Stewart is the perfect American hero, he is the good son, the gentleman with the ladies, the cold blood competitor and the good "conscience" of the story. One quality he has more than any other cinematic icon of its time: he is human and has this fragile kind of personnality. He could be anyone, your friend, your neighbor, or even you. He was the son of America, in a good way. He reprensents justice, rightousness, truth, love, friendship, etc. His charcater wouldn't be the same without its presence.
With Anthony Mann he made many westerns and the combinaison seems to fit very well. Mann's camera waits patiently and captures the essence of the story, the scenery, the faces, and gives a great projection of what was the West. It was made of small heroes like Stewart that yes conquered the bad guys but also they don't become Presidents of the U.S.A. at the end of the story. Mann's approach has just the right sensitivity while staying dusty while the Indians attacks and capturing the dirty faces of the bad guys.
The imposing number of Westerns offered can maybe justify why Winchester '73 is often, too often overlooked in its genre but I'd like to take this opportunity to write out loud (if it's possible) how this film is a beautiful black white Western that deserves so much more praise and words from the cinephiles.
A review by Michaël Parent