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WINCHESTER ’73 (1950) ****

Jimmy Stewart stars in this awesome revenge-fueled western. He’s in desperate pursuit of Stephen McNally, the man who gunned his father down. Jimmy tracks him down to a shooting contest where the grand prize is the titular rifle. Naturally, Jimmy wins the gun fair and square, but McNally cracks him over the head and steals it. Jimmy then sets out to get his gun back; not to mention kick a little ass.

You know, everyone always talks about how shocking it was to see Henry Fonda playing a coldblooded killer in Once Upon a Time in the West. But I think this is the movie that started the trend of a wholesome actor with a squeaky clean screen image turning his persona on its ear. Of course Stewart isn’t nearly as bad as Fonda was. In fact, he makes for a fantastic hero. But seeing George Bailey lay the smackdown on people is quite a sight. The scene where he beats the craps out of Dan Duryea in a saloon is especially great.

Not only is Winchester ’73 a great revenge movie, it’s just a great movie period. The opening shooting contest sequence perfectly sets the tone for the film and Stewart’s tense first meeting with McNally is particularly memorable. I also love how the story splinters once Jimmy loses his rifle. It cuts back and forth from Stewart on his quest for revenge to the gun passing from owner to owner. And Anthony (El Cid) Mann’s direction is excellent. From the way the vignettes of the gun falling into other people’s hands play out to some of the camera movement, the film has a very Kubrickian feel about it in some sequences.

Stewart is wonderful in the lead, but the supporting cast is pretty great too. Shelley Winters is quite good as dancehall girl that’s saddled with a cuckold yellowbelly groom-to-be. A young Rock Hudson is pretty intense as a crazed Indian chief and Will Geer nearly steals the movie playing none other than Wyatt Earp. And if you look fast enough, you’ll also spot Tony Curtis as a wet behind the ears Calvary officer.

I saw Winchester ’73 years ago on television and loved it. But seeing it on the big screen at our local theater, The Clayton was a great experience. It was almost like watching the film for the first time. For more information on The Clayton Theatre check out their Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/The-Clayton-Theatre/195172553830307?fref=ts

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