Winchester ’73

The first things I have to say about this film are that it features one of the earliest credits for Tony Curtis, and that Rock Hudson is buried in the cast, and he plays an Indian. Right, now that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the film.

I like this kind of film. Now, that statement’s not much good to you without knowing what kind of film it is, but regardless of that I like it anyway. It’s the kind of film where several smaller stories are all tied together through coincidence, or an object being passed from one to another, as is the case here. There are some exceptions – I wasn’t wild about Au Hasard Balthazar or Babel – but these types of collective narratives, like Magnolia, Short Cuts, Crash and Traffic, usually appeal to me, and having a great ensemble cast never hurts either. Here, the element that ties the stories together is a rifle.

Our introduction to the eponymous weapon is through James Stewart’s Lin McAdam, a cowboy on the trail of Dutch Henry Brown (Stephen McNally), a dangerous man with whom the two share a bitter past. When Lin rocks up in the town of Dodge City, presided over by Will Geer’s Wyatt Earp, he finds Dutch has entered into a shooting competition to win the rifle, so enters as well, mainly to stop his foe from winning the gun that won the West. After the competition, which also sees lookalikes of Davy Crockett and Colonel Sanders, so feels a bit like a western parody, the gun is passed from one person to the next, either by honest trade or dishonest force, and not always with it’s ammunition present. We follow the gun through the film until a fairly obvious and clearly signposted finale, where Lin eventually catches up to the on-the-run Dutch.

This film felt incredibly stagey and unnatural, so I rarely felt engrossed with the movie. For example, there’s an indoor scuffle early on that in which, mid-fight, someone draws the blinds to make the fight look more dramatic. Granted, this was also to try and hide the fisticuffs from those outside the window, but seeing as they were on the first storey I don’t think there was too much danger of that, and it’s clear it was done entirely to increase the dramatic tension. Also, a moment where Shelley Winters, who is great as the film’s predominant female presence, is sat tossing a coin up and down is just waiting for someone to come along and catch it mid-throw, and it just appears as if that’s the very reason shes sat there throwing it in the first place, which is just silly.

Stewart is good in the lead role, and he must have gotten on well with director Anthony Mann, as this is the first of 8 collaborations the pair shared, including The Naked Spur and The Man From Laramie, both of which also appear on the List. Some of the supporting cast are terrible though, particularly every bartender in the film, and there’s a moment where a man tries to hit on the girl whose fiance he just shot, which is bad form in my books.

If, like me, you love the sound of a bullet’s ricochet, then you’ll adore the final showdown, however I feel that there isn’t much here to hold the attention of people who don’t really like westerns. Now, I quite like them, so I thought the film was pretty good, though more could definitely have been done with the central premise, and the film peaks too early with the opening shooting competition. 

Choose film 6/10

Sweet Smell of Success

I hate disappointment, yet the further into the List I delve, the more used to it I become. Sweet Smell of Success is a film I’ve had sat on my DVD shelf for over a year now (since even before the List entered and devoured my sad excuse for a life), and I’ve been waiting for a chance to watch it. Appearing on 3 lists and this month featured as Empire magazine’s monthly Masterpiece, my hopes were set to high. I knew two things: the film was endlessly quotable (a character in Diner does nothing but quote the script) and it features arguably career-best performances from leads Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster. Whilst I cannot deny these points, I must take umbrage with the film for being far too dense. Even now I only have a vague idea as to what took place – Curtis’ ambitious yet downtrodden press agent Sidney Falco teamed up/sparred with Lancaster’s ruthless columnist J. J. Hunsecker in an effort to prevent a relationship between Hunsecker’s sister and a young jazz musician, so the Falco can get more column inches in Hunsecker’s paper. Much of the script is quotable (“You’re dead son, get yourself buried)”, but there is so much of it many of the best lines are lost. Doubtless this film will improve with repeat viewings, and if so my score shall be upgraded, but for a one-watch it doesn’t hold up. The score has also received a lot of plaudits, yet I found it really did not fit to the film – a barroom conversation sounds more like a frantic car chase. Here’s hoping the next viewing is more enjoyable.
Choose life 6/10