"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Winchester ’73 (NBC TV, 1967)


That rifle changes hands (again)




 
 
I have nothing against remakes as such. After all, it’s the third The Maltese Falcon we all know and love. As far as Westerns go, the third The Virginian (the 1929 one) of six was the best. Each generation has a right to have another go at a classic. Of course when some trendy director decides to put on a Shakespeare play in modern dress, s/he does still kind of feel obliged to stick to the original script. That doesn’t necessarily apply with the humble oater, where liberties may well be taken. Some remakes were hardly that: they were almost sequels.

And some weren’t too good, either. The 1966 Stagecoach was no worse than many Westerns of that year but wasn’t even close in quality to John Ford’s original 1939 film Stagecoach. The country-singer Stagecoach, in 1986, for CBS TV, was pretty bad – one of the passengers on the stage was Willie Nelson as Doc Holliday. Some remakes could be OK, though. The made-for-TV Winchester ’73 in 1967, a reprise of Universal's fine 1950 picture Winchester '73, was, honestly, weak by comparison to the Anthony Mann-directed original with James Stewart. But that doesn’t mean that it was junk.

An introductory voiceover tells us that the Winchester was the gun that won the West, and adds that the fact that the Indians had Winchesters and General Custer did not was the reason for the death of 220 brave soldiers at Little Bighorn. You knew that, didn’t you?

We open in the town of Onyx, near Tascosa, TX. A big shootin’ contest is being prepared, with the winner getting only the third-ever Winchester special centenary model (President Grant has the first and Buffalo Bill the second). So it must be 1873. So how come Custer’s already dead? Oh well, never mind.

There’s no Wyatt Earp to be master of ceremonies, only a rather nondescript townsman (Robert Bice). Favorites to win the marksmanship competition are the marshal, Lin McAdam (Tom Tryon) or his brother Dan (David Pritchard). They are crack shots and no one is likely to beat them. Except maybe their cousin, Dakin McAdam (John Saxon) who gets off the stage in town after serving six years in the state pen, and he’s not a happy bunny.

The shootin' contest starts

Now, you need to know the McAdam family tree here: brothers Paul Fix and Dan Duryea have sons. Duryea is ex-convict Dakin’s pa, while Fix is the dad of brothers Lin and Dan. Got it? Unlike the original 1950 movie, therefore, this one reveals from the get-go that the rival shooters are related.

Dan is John's pa

Of course Dan Duryea and Paul Fix are very well known old hands to us Westernistas, and it’s great to see them again. Paul does his usual solid act, while Dan manages not to overact for once. Dan was, you remember, Waco Johnny Dean, he of the hyena laugh, in the original. There’s no such gunslinger in this one. This was in fact Duryea's last Western. He made a noble contribution to our great genre.

John Saxon as the angry cousin is also no stranger to us Western fans - seven big-screen Westerns, the odd spaghetti, any number of TV shows. He was impressive from the very start, in John Huston's splendid The Unforgiven in 1960 (riding amazingly well for a Brooklyn boy). I thought he was also very good in The Appaloosa and Joe Kidd.

Saxon is the bad guy

The brothers weren’t quite such specialists of the saddle. David Pritchard had only done two or three Bonanza episodes. Ho-hum. Tom Tryon as the hero Lin (the Jimmy Stewart part) was Texas John Slaughter on TV, so was quite a household name, but... He’d been in Three Violent People before that show started and had starred in The Glory Guys in 1965 but those were his only Western features. He’s OK, I guess.

There’s a good bit only six minutes in when a saloon gal (Barbara Luna), who is the crooked dealer at blackjack, tries to cheat Dan (not Dan Duryea, Dan McAdam). Dan challenges her, so she whips a derringer out of a (rather daring) lady-holster and points it at him, asking him where he wants it. In the nick of time, though, brother Lin, the marshal, turns up, disarms her and runs her outa town. Well, that sent the picture up in my estimation.

The best bit

As you may guess, Lin wins the Winchester fair ‘n’ square, with Cousin Dakin going grrrr in the background. He’s a bad egg. So bad, in fact, that rather than renounce owning that Winchester, he shoots and kills his Uncle Paul Fix to get it (Uncle Paul was engraving Lin’s name on it at the time). Dakin’s dad, Duryea, sees this but lies to protect his son, claiming that Uncle Fix pulled a gun first and it was self-defense. Preposterous.

Uncle Paul Fix is gunned down

Well, Dan and Lin set out after their renegade cousin to bring him in for trial – and get that Winch back. They go to Tascosa, where John Doucette (who was also in the original movie) runs a saloon. He has a splendid armored gun-turret on the bar from behind which he pokes his shotgun.

You don't want to argue with this saloon owner

And in the saloon, playing solitaire, is frock-coated gambler/arms dealer John Dehner. I always like Dehner; he was never less than excellent in Westerns. His character’s name is High Spade Johnny Dean, I suppose in homage to Waco Johnny Dean in ’50. Anyway, he wins the Winchester at poker. That he does so may have something to do with the fact the dealer is none other than saloon gal Luna, sleight-of-hand supremo and lover of High Spade, run out of Onyx by the marshal and now palming cards in Tascosa.

Dehner is High Spade

You know the ongoing story, I’m sure. An Indian (Rock Hudson in the original, Ned Romero as the Comanche Wild Bear in this one) kills High Spade and possesses himself of the rifle. He in turn is killed but a little Mexican girl finds the Winchester in the long grass afterwards and gives it to her pop, who promptly falls out with his brother over it. They decide that the gun is cursed (they may have a point) and go to church to get the local padre to bless it. Mmm, that’ll work.

That nice Universal Western town lot is Onyx (it was a Universal Television production) and pleasant Old Tucson and surrounding locations are used for for Tascosa and the in-between bits. It’s shot in Technicolor. Universal was always good at that side of things.

The director was Herschel Daugherty, who helmed all sorts of Western TV shows and the odd feature (such as the not-very-good The Raiders). He handles Winchester ’73 well enough, I reckon, you know, for a TV show. There are all those fades-to-black, of course, with preceding mini-climaxes in the plot, to accommodate the commercial exigencies of television.

The writers were Richard DeLong Adams and Stephen Kandel, using the 1950 Borden Chase/Robert L Richards screenplay based on a Stuart Lake story as the starting point, but considerably departing from that script (after all, it wasn’t Shakespeare) especially in the second half.

There are some good character actors in support. In addition to the aforementioned Fix, Doucette and Dehner, evil Cousin Saxon has a couple of henchmen, ex-lags from his jail days, and they are John Drew Barrymore as a vulture-like preacher and good old Jack Lambert as a vicious Scot (his Scots accent is almost as good as mine). If you don’t blink you’ll also spot George Keymas and James Griffith.

There’s a shoot-out in church (lower budget than Vasquez Rocks, I guess) when one by one the bad guys cash in their inevitable chips. Dan smooches the derringer girl but Lin doesn’t seem to get anyone. The rifle comes back full circle into the hands of its original owner, like O Henry's umbrella.

But for how long?

Until the next remake, I suppose.






15 comments:

  1. Delmer Daves' WINCHESTER '73...a deliberate mistake no doubt....prize???

    I've never seen this remake but would like to out of curiosity if nothing else.
    I see Sidonis,France-(them of those horrible forced subtitles)
    have releases Mann's original on BluRay with the remake as a bonus disc-I would
    have gone for this if not for those forced subs.
    Totally agree about Saxon in Westerns-superb in JOE KIDD and THE APPALOOSA
    would have been a minor classic if not for the mumbling one who ruins the film-
    just think what it would have been with either Lancaster or Newman in the Brando
    role.
    The STAGECOACH remake terrible Ann Margaret awful beyond belief and Red Buttons
    and Bing Crosby's comic relief a total disaster. Having said that Alex
    Cord not bad with the impossible task of filling Duke's boots. With better choices Cord could have been a pretty OK Western star-he certainly looked the
    part.

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    1. Oops, what a faux pas. Thank's for pointing it out. I've changed it now in the text (wouldn't want future readers thinking I was an entire dolt; half stupid is enough).
      Actually Daves and Mann had remarkably parallel careers in many ways, and both made Westerns with the new tough-guy Jimmy Stewart in 1950.
      Still, no excuse for carelessness. Mea maxima culpa, dude.
      Jeff

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  2. I might add,a most interesting supporting cast in this remake.
    John Drew Barrymore another wasted talent who was pretty good in Westerns,
    I thought,very good in a couple of RAWHIDE episodes.
    It looks like total mayhem in France with their glorious victory at the
    World Cup..the French have certainly given their team a celebration to end them
    all.Don't know how much you got caught up in it all,Jeff or indeed who you
    supported,if anyone. One things for sure The French sure love their Westerns and
    I might add American culture in general.I might add that The French nation
    behaved impeccably when The American President visited-which is more than can
    be said for the rabble rousers in my home nation-I've never felt so ashamed
    to be British at the moment.

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    1. Yes, the line-up is one of the strong points of the '67 '73.
      Don't want to get into Trumpery, geopolitics not being quite the remit of this blog, but the naughty boy that still lurks within me did find that baby balloon quite funny. And I see that like Mrs. Clinton before him, he now says he "misspoke" (what a word!) at Helsinki and meant the exact opposite. i.e. he's admitting to being either a fool or a knave. Oh well, the world keeps on turning (for now).
      Jeff

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  3. Jeff, you gave this remake a fair write-up, probably better than it deserves. I remember watching this version of WINCHESTER '73 back when it premiered in March, 1967.

    I have always liked John Saxon in Westerns. He was always very believable in any role he portrayed. THE UNFORGIVEN(1960) was his first of several Western movies and TV shows. Also, I have always liked Barbara Luna(the derringer girl). Her first western role was on HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL in 1958. I first remember her from being a semi-regular on the ZORRO TV show in 1958. Both Barbara Luna and John Saxon are both still going strong.

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  4. Jeff,I'm sorry that I got "political" it will not happen again....
    and I'm not against protest either-it's just that I thought some acpects
    of the UK protests not only insulted The President but also millions
    of hard working blue collar Americans..it's just a personal thing which I
    felt that I had to comment on.
    At any rate the UK is in a real mess at the moment with both party leaders
    not being supported by the grassroots of their parties.
    Anyway,enough of that back to more pleasant things,John Saxon for instance.
    Explosive Media in Germany have just released on Blu Ray the tough Audie
    Murphy Western POSSE FROM HELL;the film also features Saxon.
    Coming soon from Elephant France is one of the most interesting of late 60's
    Westerns DEATH OF A GUNFIGHTER yet another Universal Western with good
    supporting work from Saxon. It's good to see these somewhat minor films
    getting Blu Ray versions. DEATH OF A GUNFIGHTER has another fine Richard
    Widmark performance,who I always feel is outstanding in Westerns.

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  5. Dear Jeff and readers of this excellent blog,

    without any political motives I would like to say one thing: Belgium deserved to win the World Cup, because they made the most beautiful goal of the tournament, in particular the 3rd goal against Japan.
    Just kidding!
    I agree with reader John that France has a fondness for the American movie, especially for westerns and film noir. Thanks to Sidonis Calysta I also can enjoy well known and lesser known westerns.
    And thanks to Jeff I can enjoy the 'petite histoire' behind all this magnificent movies.

    Belgian reader Bart



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    1. Actually, Bart, the champions, France, deserved to win the World Cup. I just thought I'd put you right on that one.
      And yes, you are right: the French love all things Western.
      Jeff

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  6. Jeff, the above photos of the saloon gal pulling a derringer from her rather daring lady-holster is actress Barbara Luna. She has been in many TV Westerns and movies. She was in FIRECREEK(1968) and in the "The Legend of Jud Starr" episode of CIMARRON STRIP airing September 14, 1967. She was always so good and she is still going strong today at age 79.

    John Knight, we all get frustrated when it comes to today's politics, that is just a given. That is why we love good old fashioned Westerns for our entertainment. That is why we enjoy Jeff's wonderful write-ups.

    You stated about the French loving Westerns is so true. It made me remember French filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier's love for Westerns, both movies and novels. Here is his list of 21 favorite Western movies. https://www.imdb.com/list/ls006493726/

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    1. Howdy Walter
      Yes, you're right. The part is misattributed in the IMDb credits. It's Barbara alright.
      Bertrand Tavernier, though an inveterate waffler on DVD extra features, is a shrewd and knowledgeable judge of the Western. I find his list (not of his favorites necessarily but of overlooked or underrated Westerns) very interesting, and there are several there which I have also feel to have been unjustly forgotten. I can think of others too. Thanks for the link.
      Jeff

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  7. John McIntire wasn't in WINCHESTER 73 as High Spade. That was Millard Mitchell, who also appeared with Stewart in THE NAKED SPUR. McIntire was in THE FAR COUNTRY.

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    1. Yup, another blunder by Jeff. McIntire was Joe Lamont. High Spade is a good name for a professional gambler but you are right, he was Jimmy Stewart's sidekick, not the arms dealer character in '73. Thanks for the correction.
      Jeff

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  8. Yes I forgot McIntire was the arms dealer in 73. Duh!

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