Winchester ’73

Winchester '73 (1950) movie poster

(1950) dir. Anthony Mann
viewed: 05/14/03

I grew up in the South, in Florida to be exact, despising many things that I associated with Southern culture: rednecks, blue jeans, chewing tobacco, country music and Westerns. The litany of those things detailed shows how ill-informed and indiscriminate I was in consigning things to my list of dislikes. Though I still dislike rednecks and tobacco products, I have come to appreciate many other things that I associated rather blindly with one another, some more readily than others.

I came upon the Western in England, of all places. On the “telly” on BBC and Channel Four, frequently in the afternoons the films that would be played would be the great symbols of America, the Westerns of the Golden Age of Hollywood. I got quite into them and saw quite a few, but never came close to having seen even all of the interesting or important films. I want to say that I did see a good Anthony Mann Western among the viewings, but I can’t recall it. Winchester ’73 was recommended to me by a former film school chum, who credited it as being his primary influence into converting him into a fan of the Western.

It’s an interesting film with a surprisingly notable cast. Jimmy Stewart stars, Shelley Winters is the love interest, and also features an interesting performance by Dan Duryea, Rock Hudson as an indian chief (amusingly bad Hollywood casting and depiction of Native Americans — though Hudson is a notably young, strapping buck), and Tony Curtis in a bit part. The film’s Monument Valley setting is as beautifully rendered as in a John Ford Western, and the narrative is cleverly structured and literate yarn that follows a stolen Winchester rifle as it passes through several hands, leaving each usurper dead as it passes on.

When I asked my film school chum what the nature of the discussion was of this film in his classes, he said that it was the “gun as phallus,” a classically Freudian reading, the thing that every man must have and is willing to die in trying to procure. It’s interestingly lethal to those who fail to maintain it. And the landscape is rife with phallic cacti surrounding the players in the desert. It’s an amusing reading, and that is why I share it with you.

After seeing The Magnificent Seven in the theater a couple of weeks ago, I had been a-hankerin’ to see some more Westerns, so don’t be surprised to see some more classics showing up here in the DVD section, pardner.

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