Winchester '73

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This article is about the film. For the rifle, see Winchester rifle.
Winchester '73
Winchester 73 - 1950- Poster.png
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Anthony Mann
Produced by Aaron Rosenberg
Screenplay by Borden Chase
Robert L. Richards
Story by Stuart N. Lake
Starring James Stewart
Shelley Winters
Stephen McNally
Dan Duryea
Music by Walter Scharf
Cinematography William H. Daniels
Edited by Edward Curtiss
Distributed by Universal-International
Release dates
  • July 12, 1950 (1950-07-12) (United States)
Running time
92 minutes
Country United States
Language English
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] The movie features early film performances by Rock Hudson as an American Indian, Tony Curtis, and James Best. 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. It 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]


In 1876, Lin McAdam (James Stewart) and friend 'High-Spade' Frankie Wilson (Millard Mitchell) pursue outlaw 'Dutch Henry' Brown (Stephen McNally) into Dodge City, Kansas. They arrive just in time to see a man forcing a saloon-hall girl named Lola (Shelley Winters) onto the stage leaving town. Once the man reveals himself to be Sheriff Wyatt Earp (Will Geer) Lin backs down. 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 Henry see each other in the saloon, but are unable to fight due to the presence of Earp. Lin enters a shooting competition, contending against Dutch Henry among others, that is held on the Fourth of July. They end up the two finalists for a prized one-of-one-thousand perfect Winchester rifle. Lin wins by betting that he can shoot through a stamp placed over the hole of round piece from an Indian necklace and then doing it. Dutch Henry claims that he is leaving town, but then goes to Lin's boarding house room and jumps Lin when he enters and steals the prize. He and his two cohorts leave town with Lin and High-Spade in hot pursuit.

Dutch Henry and his two men ride to Riker's Bar. Because they left town in a hurry, they left their guns behind which puts them in a very bad position considering the problems with Indians in the area. Once Indian trader Joe Lamont (John McIntire) gets a look at the rifle, he raises the price of his guns high enough that Dutch and his men can not afford to buy any. Dutch's only option is to trade the rifle for three hundred dollars in gold and their choice of weapons from the pile that Lamont is going to sell to the Indians. Lamont feigns inexperience at cards and Dutch attempts to win back the rifle. Instead, he ends up losing the three hundred in gold to Lamont. Lamont takes his guns to meet his Indian buyers, but their leader Young Bull (Rock Hudson) doesn't like the old, worn-out merchandise Lamont is offering; he wants the guns that Crazy Horse used at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Lamont made the mistake of leaving his rifle very visible and Young Bull character wants it. When Lamont refuses to sell, he is robbed and scalped.

Shelley Winters and James Stewart

Lola Manners (Shelley Winters) and her fiance Steve Miller (Charles Drake) are in a wagon heading to where their new home will be. The left rear wheel of the wagon is squeaking loudly because Steve forgot to grease it back in town. When they are pursued by Indians, the wheel becomes a factor because the wagon is slowed down. In a moment of panic, which Lola never forgives him for, he gets off the wagon and gets on his horse that is tied to the back. He rides away and leaves Lola, but returns when he sees a small encampment of soldiers up ahead. He rides alongside while Lola drives the wagon and they reach safety with the Army.

That night, after being chased by the Indians, Lin and High-Spade meet up with those same soldiers which has been pinned down by those Indians. The soldiers are young and inexperienced and their crusty old sergeant (Jay C. Flippen) is inexperienced in fighting Indians. Lin gives him some tactical advice on how to fight the Indians. They prepare themselves for an early attack the next day and Lin gives Lola his six-gun to fight with. The unspoken message he gives her, which she fully understands, is that she is to use the final bullet in the gun on herself to avoid capture.

James Stewart

After a fierce morning battle, the Indian leader is killed. Lin and 'High-Spade' return to their search for Dutch Henry and they ride right past the rifle lying on the ground by the dead Indian's body. It is found by Doan (Tony Curtis) and the sergeant, unable to give it to Lin for his assistance, gives it to Steve (to avoid having an officer take it away from Doan).

Steve and Lola reach the Jameson house where Lola will stay with Mrs. Jameson and her two small children while Steve goes to meet 'Waco' Johnnie Dean, much to the disapproval of Lola. Steve ends up not having to go because Waco (Dan Duryea) and his men show up at the Jameson house unexpectedly. They are on the run from a posse and once Waco sees the rifle, he covets it. He keeps insulting Miller in front of Lola in an attempt to provoke Steve into a gunfight. Finally Steve draws on Waco, though he knows he is no match for the professional. Waco kills him and takes possession of the rifle. Once Waco and Lola escape the posse and go to Dutch's hideout, Dutch Henry takes back "his" rifle.

There, Dutch Henry plans an armed robbery in Tascosa, Texas. Waco is stationed in a saloon to provide cover for the gang's escape after the robbery, but is betrayed to Lin by Lola. Lin forces Waco to tell him where Dutch is and when Waco gets a chance to shoot Lin, Lin kills him in the street. The robbery goes awry and Lin chases Dutch Henry out of town and confronts him on a rocky hill. Lin refers to Dutch by his real name, Matthew. They shoot it out on the hill with rifles before Lin finally shoots Matthew/Dutch Henry off the hill. High-Spade reveals to Lola that Dutch Henry is Lin's no-good brother. Matthew robbed a bank and ran home to hide out. When their father wouldn't help him, Matthew shot him in the back. Lin comes riding back into town with his rifle and it's obvious that he and Lola will be together.


James 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 attention did indeed bring many previously unknown original rifles 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 film [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 made an offer that Stewart could make both Harvey and Winchester '73 for a percentage of the profits that would be spread out over a period of time and qualify for 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 saloon-hall girl. Winters didn't think much of her part in the film. On her thoughts on 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 star in another Stewart-Mann western, The Naked Spur (1953), as a grizzled old prospector.

Jay C. Flippen was cast as Sergeant Wilkes. He would appear in the second Stewart-Mann Western, Bend of the River (1952), along with Rock Hudson, who appears in this film 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]

Winchester '73 was remade as a made-for-TV film in 1967.

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". Gns & 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. ^ A TOWN CALLED HOLLYWOOD: Top Stars Now Share in Profits of Major Pictures Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 24 July 1955: d2. Goetz put the figure at $530,000 in this article.
  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. 

External links[edit]