Winchester '73

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Winchester '73
Winchester 73 (1950 film poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster by Reynold Brown
Directed byAnthony Mann
Produced byAaron Rosenberg
Screenplay byBorden Chase
Robert L. Richards
Story byStuart N. Lake
StarringJames Stewart
Shelley Winters
Dan Duryea
Stephen McNally
CinematographyWilliam H. Daniels
Edited byEdward Curtiss
Universal Pictures
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • June 7, 1950 (1950-06-07) (New York City)
  • July 12, 1950 (1950-07-12) (United States)
Running time
92 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2,250,000 (US rentals)[1]

Winchester '73 is a 1950 American Western film directed by Anthony Mann and starring James Stewart, Shelley Winters, Dan Duryea and Stephen McNally. Written by Borden Chase and Robert L. Richards, the film is about the journey of a prized rifle from one ill-fated owner to another and a cowboy's search for a murderous fugitive.[2] Rock Hudson portrays an American Indian and Tony Curtis plays a besieged cavalry trooper, both in small roles at the beginnings of their careers. The film received a Writers Guild of America Award nomination for Best Written American Western.[3] This is the first Western film collaboration between Anthony Mann and James Stewart, and was filmed in black and white.

In 2015, the United States Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry, finding it "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[4]


Lin McAdam and 'High-Spade' Frankie Wilson, on the trail of a man named Dutch Henry Brown with whom Lin has a personal score to settle, arrive in Dodge City, Kansas just in time to see a man forcing a saloon-hall girl named Lola Manners (Shelley Winters) onto the stagecoach leaving town. Lin confronts the man but backs down once he learns that he is standing up to Sheriff Wyatt Earp (Will Geer). Earp informs the two men that firearms are not allowed in town and they must check them in with Earp's brother Virgil. Lin and Dutch lay eyes on each other in the saloon, but are unable to fight due to the persuasive presence of Earp.

Lin enters a shooting contest, competing against Dutch, and many others. They end up the two finalists for a highly coveted "One of One Thousand" Winchester 1873 rifle. Lin wins by betting that he can shoot through a stamp placed over the hole of a round piece from an Indian necklace. After losing, Dutch claims that he is leaving town, but instead goes to Lin's room at the boarding house, ambushes him and steals the rifle. Dutch and his two cohorts leave town with Lin and High-Spade in hot pursuit.

Dutch and his compatriots ride to Riker's Bar. Because they left town in a hurry, they did not retrieve their guns from Earp. This puts them in a bad position because of the Indians in the area. When Indian trader Joe Lamont (John McIntire) sees the perfect Winchester rifle, he is determined to get it and raises the price of his supply of purchasable weapons high enough that Dutch and his men cannot afford them. Dutch's only option is to trade the perfect rifle for Lamont's three hundred dollars in gold and their choice of weapons from the pile that Lamont is going to sell to the Indians. Dutch has been consistently losing to the trader playing cards, but decides to lay down one more bet – the three hundred in gold – in a last-ditch attempt to regain the rifle. He loses.

Lamont takes his guns to meet his Indian buyers, but their leader Young Bull (Rock Hudson) doesn't like the old, worn-out merchandise he is offered; he wants the guns that Crazy Horse used at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Young Bull sees the perfect Winchester and wants it. When Lamont refuses to sell, he is robbed and scalped.

Shelley Winters and James Stewart

Lola and her fiancé Steve Miller (Charles Drake) are in a wagon heading to the site of their new home. As they are pursued by Young Bull and his warriors, they realise that they will not be able to outrun the Indians. Panicking, Steve jumps on his horse and rides off, claiming he is going ahead to find help; Lola is stranded. Not far along, however, Steve sees a small encampment of soldiers and goes back to retrieve her. Lin and High-Spade, chased by the same Indians, ride into the encampment that night.

The soldiers are new to the territory and have no experience fighting Indians. Lin gives their sergeant (Jay C. Flippen) tactical advice and they prepare for an attack they expect early the next morning. When the morning comes, Lin gives Lola his revolver, and implies that she should commit suicide with the final bullet to avoid capture. After a fierce battle, the Indian leader is killed. When everything is over, Lin and High-Spade leave to continue their search for Dutch. They ride past the Winchester where Young Bull had dropped it when he fell. It is found by Doan (Tony Curtis) and the Sergeant who, not wanting the young soldier to lose the gun to an officer, gives it to Steve.

Screenshot of Stewart

Steve and Lola reach the Jameson house, which is set to become theirs. He wants her to stay there with Mrs. Jameson and her two small children while he goes to meet Waco Johnnie Dean, much to the disapproval of Lola. Waco (Dan Duryea) and his men show up at the Jameson house unexpectedly, on the run from a posse led by Sheriff Noonan (Ray Teal). Once Waco sees the Winchester, he covets it. He repeatedly insults and humiliates Steve in an attempt to provoke him into a gunfight. Steve draws his gun and Waco kills him. Waco and Lola escape the posse and ride to Dutch's hideout. There, Dutch manages to take custody of the rifle by suggesting that if Waco does not return it, Dutch will deny the outlaw a partnership in an armed robbery he is planning in Tascosa, Texas.

After everyone is filled in as to their role in the crime, they make their way to the town. Waco is stationed in a saloon to provide cover for the gang's escape after the robbery. In the meantime, Lin and High-Spade have arrived. Lola warns Lin about Waco. Lin uses violence to force Waco to agree to take him to Dutch. Waco attempts to shoot Lin and Lin kills him, while around them the robbery goes awry and Lola is wounded. High-Spade reveals to Lola that Dutch is Lin's brother.

Lin follows Dutch out of town, confronting him on a rocky hill, calling him by his real name, Matthew. They shoot it out on the hill with rifles before Lin finally finishes the stand-off with a bullet that causes Dutch to fall from the hill.

High-Spade tells Lola that Dutch robbed a bank and a stagecoach and ran back to the family home, looking to hide out. When their father refused to help him, Dutch shot him in the back. Lin swore revenge on his brother.

Exhausted, Lin returns to town with the Winchester and Dutch's body. Lola runs to him and he puts his arm around her. Lin and High-Spade look down at the silver plate on the rifle in Lin’s other hand.


Another screenshot of Stewart


The shooting competition takes place on July 4, 1876, the Centennial, as the news of Custer's Last Stand in June is just becoming known across the west.

A few days after Dutch Henry steals the prized rifle from Lin, he plays cards against the Indian trader, Joe Lamont, at Riker's Bar. Dutch Henry lays down a full house, aces over eights, stating that he just missed the "dead man's hand"—two pair, aces and eights, so nicknamed because Wild Bill Hickok was said to hold such a hand when he was murdered in Deadwood on August 2, 1876, almost a month later. Lamont had four treys.

As part of the publicity campaign around the release of the film, Universal Pictures sponsored a contest, by placing magazine ads, to find some of the rare remaining "One of One Thousand" Model 1873 Winchester rifles.[5] This resulted in many previously unknown original rifles being brought into the spotlight and drew public interest to the field of antique gun collecting. The winner of the contest received a new Winchester Model 1894 rifle, since the Model 1873 was out of production at that time.[6]


James Stewart and Jay C. Flippen

The film was originally intended to have been directed by Fritz Lang[7] but Universal did not want Lang to produce the film through his own Diana Productions company.[8] Lang's idea was to have the rifle being Stewart's character's only source of strength and his only excuse for living, making the quest for his rifle a matter of life and death.[9] With Lang out of the picture, Universal produced the film itself with the up-and-coming Anthony Mann, who was James Stewart's choice, directing. Mann changed the idea of the film through having Borden Chase rewrite the script [10] to make the rifle a character, showing its adventures passing through the hands of a variety of people.

Stewart had wished to make Harvey for Universal-International but, when the studio wouldn't pay the $200,000 salary Stewart wanted, studio head William Goetz offered to allow Stewart to make both Harvey and Winchester '73 for a percentage of the profits, spread over a period of time and at a lower tax rate because Stewart would be taxed as a company rather than as an individual.[11] Stewart's then-agent Lew Wasserman was able to get his client 50% of the profits, eventually amounting to $600,000 from the film's unexpected success.[12][13] The money from a percentage deal was taxed as a capital gain attracting a much lower rate of tax than a normal salary would incur.[14] Stewart's deal also gave him control of director and co-stars.[15]

Casting and filming[edit]

Stewart was already cast in the part of Lin McAdam and he spent a lot of time practicing with the rifle so he would look like an authentic westerner. As Mann later described, "[Stewart] was magnificent walking down a street with a Winchester rifle cradled in his arm. And he was great too actually firing the gun. He studied hard at it. His knuckles were raw with practising... It was those sorts of things that helped make the film look so authentic, gave it its sense of reality." An expert from the Winchester company, Herb Parsons, actually did the trick shooting required for the film, and assisted Stewart in his training.

Shelley Winters was cast in the part of Lola Manners, a dance-hall girl. Winters didn't think much of her part in the film. On her thoughts about it, Winters said: "Here you've got all these men... running around to get their hands on this goddamn rifle instead of going after a beautiful blonde like me. What does that tell you about the values of that picture? If I hadn't been in it, would anybody have noticed?"

The part of Wyatt Earp was given to Will Geer, who felt he was miscast for the role. Dan Duryea and Stephen McNally were cast as Waco Johnnie Dean and Dutch Henry Brown, respectively. Millard Mitchell was cast as High-Spade Frankie Wilson. That same year, Mitchell appeared in The Gunfighter, starring Gregory Peck. He would appear in another Stewart-Mann western, The Naked Spur (1953), as a grizzled old prospector.

Jay C. Flippen was cast as Sergeant Wilkes. He would also appear in the second Stewart-Mann Western, Bend of the River (1952), along with Rock Hudson, who appears in Winchester '73 as a Native American.

Tony Curtis has a small role as a cavalry soldier.

The Stewart and Mann collaboration established a new persona for Stewart; one more violent and disillusioned, but still likeable.[16]

Winchester '73 was filmed in the following locations:

  • Mescal, Arizona, USA
  • Old Tucson, 201 S. Kinney Road, Tucson, Arizona, USA
  • Six Points Texas, Backlot, Universal Studios, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, California, USA[17]


The film has gained a reputation as a classic of the Western genre, and helped to redefine the public perception of James Stewart. Writing for the Telegraph, Martin Chilton gave the movie 5 stars and described the film as "the first in a series of Western masterpieces".[18] In Empire, William Thomas calls the film "the marvellously-scripted story of a man and a gun". He also awarded 5 stars.[19] The film holds a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 26 reviews, with an average of 8.57/10.[20]


Winchester '73 was remade as a made-for-TV film in 1967 featuring Tom Tryon, John Saxon, Dan Duryea, John Drew Barrymore, Joan Blondell, John Dehner and Paul Fix. The remake was directed by Herschel Daugherty with cinematography by Bud Thackery.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ James Best was the last surviving cast member.


  1. ^ 'The Top Box Office Hits of 2006', Variety, January 3, 1951.
  2. ^ "Winchester '73". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved March 21, 2012.
  3. ^ "Awards for Winchester '73". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved March 21, 2012.
  4. ^ Mike Barnes (December 16, 2015). "'Ghostbusters,' 'Top Gun,' 'Shawshank' Enter National Film Registry". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 16, 2015.
  5. ^ Fjestad, Steve (December 14, 2007). "Winchester Model 1873 Rifle". Guns & Ammo. Retrieved February 10, 2013.
  6. ^ Gordon, James D. Winchester's New Model of 1873: A Tribute. Self-published, 1997, p. 391.
  7. ^ Munn, Michael (2007). Jimmy Stewart: The Truth Behind the Legend. Robson, p. 198.
  8. ^ Lang, Fritz, and Barry Keith Grant (2003). Fritz Lang. University Press of Mississippi, p. 57.
  9. ^ Lang 2003, p. 57.
  10. ^ Basinger, Jeanine (2007). Anthony Mann. Wesleyan University Press, p. 79.
  11. ^ Basinger 2007, p. 79.
  12. ^ McDonald, Paul (2000). The Star System: Hollywood's Production of Popular Identities. Wallflower Press, p. 75.
  13. ^ Philip K. Scheuer (24 July 1955). "A TOWN CALLED HOLLYWOOD: Top Stars Now Share in Profits of Major Pictures". Los Angeles Times. p. d2., quotes Goetz putting the figure at $530,000.
  14. ^ Eyman, Scott (2005). The Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer. Robson, p. 456.
  15. ^ Mann, Denise (2008). Hollywood Independents: The Postwar Talent Takeover. University of Minnesota Press, p. 51.
  16. ^ Basinger 2007, p. 80.
  17. ^ "Locations for Winchester '73". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved March 21, 2012.
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ "Winchester '73 (1950)". Rotten Tomatoes.

External links[edit]