Saturday, May 05, 2018

Winchester '73 (The Nitrate Picture Show)

Winchester '73. James Stewart.

Anthony Mann, US 1950
Print source: Library of Congress, Culpeper, VA
Running time: 93 minutes
Viewed at The Nitrate Picture Show (NPS), George Eastman Museum, Dryden Theatre, Rochester, 5 May 2018

NPS: "About the print

This print displays light, recurrent vertical base scratching, but it does not detract from the lovely Arizona landscape. There is some warpage, which causes the print to wander at times in the film path and can affect focus, making the projectionists’ job even more difficult. Shrinkage: 0.65%

About the film

“The rifle Winchester ’73 is a beauty, and so is the picture about it. I use the word, however, in admiration of the picture’s cinematic feel and not of the story it tells and the emotions it engenders, which are ugly. For the bad men of this movie at Ritz, United Artists, Vogue, Culver and Studio City theaters are really evil men, and even its hero, James Stewart, is spurred by an old blood feud to kill. The technique employed by Stuart N. Lake, author, Robert L. Richards and Borden Chase, scenarists, and Anthony Mann, director, has the same lean-ribbed, debunking quality as the recent Gunfighter. The men in Winchester ’73 seem to be the product of the hard land and a parlous time; everything conspires against their chances for survival, and they are ringed by hostile forces, tangible and intangible.”
– Philip K. Scheuer, Los Angeles Times, July 13, 1950

“The famous Winchester repeating rifle, ‘the gun that won the West,’ is celebrated in a lively and noisy western at the Paramount. Winchester ’73 has the redoubtable James Stewart wearing a dirty ten gallon hat and six-shooters and avenging his father’s death back in the 1870s. It also has enough action to carry several horse operas and still have some to spare. There is a rifle match in Dodge City, followed by a successful repulse of Sioux Indians on the warpath just after Custer’s last stand. Stage coach holdups and killings in cold blood punctuate the proceedings. All in all, it is quite a melodrama of frontier days. . . . Of chief importance is the fact that Anthony Mann has kept the action violent and progressive, winding up with a wild Winchester duel on a craggy ridge.”
– Howard Barnes, New York Herald Tribune, June 8, 1950"

AA: Anthony Mann had debuted as a Western director at MGM with Devil's Doorway starring Robert Taylor. In the same year his greatest period was launched at Universal with Winchester '73 based on a screenplay by Borden Chase and starring James Stewart with whom he also made the Westerns Bend of the River, The Naked Spur, The Far Country and The Man from Laramie.

All shot on location, all with a profound sense of the landscape, always also including a human presence. From the beginning Mann's Western landscapes were soulscapes.

Since Bend of the River Mann usually shot in colour, but Winchester '73 is still in black and white, the only b&w Western in the Mann-Stewart cycle which is among the greatest in the history of the Western.

They are based on the concept of the quest, with mythological dimensions which are conscious but unobtrusive, as are the connections to the classics of antiquity and Shakespeare. The protagonist is an innerly torn searcher who confronts his enemy and simultaneously his own dark side.

In Mann's Westerns Stewart matured as a tragic actor. Stewart had been known as a nice humoristic actor, but this film opened new dimensions in him. During his quest Stewart's character, Lin McAdam, discovers that his father's murderer is his own brother. The look of hatred in Stewart's face as he is fighting his enemy is shocking because we realize that Lin is not a hero but an anti-hero.

The cast is rich and wonderful. Shelley Winters as Lola, Stephen McNally as Lin's brother Dutch Henry Brown, Millard Mitchell as High-Spade Frankie Wilson, John McIntire as Joe Lamont, Will Geer as Wyatt Earp, and Jay C. Flippen as Sgt. Wilkes. Rock Hudson has one of his earliest roles as an Indian chief. In a smaller role we can spot Tony Curtis, also in one of his earliest parts. The most memorable performance next to James Stewart is by Dan Duryea. He is at his best as Waco Johnnie Dean.

The film is violent, one of the reflections of the heritage of violence after the Civil War. Lin is a war veteran, too. The direction of action is excellent.

Shot by William H. Daniels, a film noir ambience lingers in the black and white cinematography with expressive silhouettes and shadows. The composition in depth is assured and exciting, as is the use of the moving camera.

This was the first time I saw Anthony Mann in nitrate. The screening did full justice to his rich visual power.

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