To say I’m not a fan of the Western genre is a gross understatement. In fact it is the one genre that I struggle to watch – it always feels like a chore to watch a Western. Even Michael Fassbender could not keep me interested in a Western (Slow West, 2015, John Maclean), which if you knew me and how much I love Fassbender gives you some indication how insufferable I find the genre. As such it’s always with some trepidation that I approach a Western in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (and lord knows there’s a lot of them in there!!) I know, I know, I should go into every film with an open mind and no preconceptions but I just can’t seem to do that with Westerns.
“The Westerns these two men made together are unusually bitter and starkly beautiful, with fascinating overtones of moral uncertainty.” (249, Ethan de Seife, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)
Despite this rant Winchester ’73 wasn’t quite as insufferable as the other films in this genre I have watched for this blog. For one thing it was relatively short, coming in at just over 90 minutes. But more importantly there was some sense of an actual plot and very little brooding or posturing. And probably my favourite aspect was that while there was a damsel, as expected, she wasn’t so much in distress. In fact she was more than capable of looking after herself which in my opinion is a much better representation of women in that time. After all the Wild West was a tough place and living there couldn’t have been easy – sissy pampered prima donnas wouldn’t have survived in that period – no problem for Shelley Winters’ Lola. “The cast is extremely strong. Shelley Winters is excellent, and the supporting players include such versatile character actors as Millard Mitchell, Stephen McNally, Will Geer, and the incomparable Dan Duryea.” (249)
James Stewart is charismatic as Lin McAdams, who is very clearly the ‘White Hat’ or hero of this piece. He is quietly commanding without becoming dull and brooding like so many other leading men in Westerns. “His character, Lin McAdams, is an unusual hero – somewhat tentative, even if he is the film’s moral center.” (249)
IMDB gives the following synopsis for Winchester ’73 : “The journey of a prized rifle from one ill-fated owner to another parallels a cowboy’s search for a murderous fugitive” and it sums up the narrative kind of perfectly. The much desired rifle, the titular Winchester ’73, is really the driving force for the narrative, going through numerous owners, while Lin’s hunt for a dangerous fugitive (or Black Hat) takes a backseat for the majority of the film before taking the lead during the film’s climax.
There was remarkably little melodrama which made the film so much more enjoyable for me – that and the lack of painfully obvious, and thus frustrating, musical cues of themes. All in all while I can’t say honestly that I will watch Winchester ’73 again it turned out to be the most engaging Western I have watched for this blog. Maybe I’ll even give Slow West another go on the back of this experience.