Saturday, September 12, 2009

Winchester '73. B-

Surprisingly, the classic American Western is not 'the western at its best,' for lack of a better phrase. With the exception of a few gems, classic black and white Westerns are merely morality tales that contain a predictable story, heroic, but shallow protagonist, and a prototypical villain. The themes are often in relation to the oldest biblical tales or Greek myths. And yet the classic Western remains obvious and shallow compared to the truly great Westerns of the newer age. 'Winchester '73' is the epitome of the classic Hollywood Western, and it's not bad, but not close to great either. James Stewart, in one of several collaborations with director Anthony Mann, plays Lin McAdam, who goes after the man who stole his prized Winchester rifle. The thief is from McAdam's past, and Lin's search for vengeance goes beyond the desire to have his rifle back. Now, this good material, but the script focuses too much on the jumbled story than the characters, as do so many of the old Westerns. The movie, though entertaining, simply isn't very interesting. The villain is a recycled character, and the plot moves from one small story line to another so often that the movie becomes an extreme mess, especially considering that it's only 90 minutes long. Instead of focusing on the action, 'Winchester '73' could have instead gone for more of a study of the two main characters. I also felt that the dame was sort of thrown into the mix to add to the drama. Played by Shelley Winters, her ostentatious presence was merely there to help motivate the Stewart character. If you want an old Western in the tradition of the supposedly classic John Wayne films, then this is for you. But if you expect an epic driven by the characters, like 'The Wild Bunch,' then you will be disappointed.

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