Filmsite Movie Review
Winchester '73 (1950)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

Two days later after their flight, the three fugitive outlaws led by 'Dutch' possessed the prized rifle (without ammunition shells), but felt "naked" without their six-guns. At Riker's Hotel & Bar outpost, Indian trader/gun-runner Joe Lamont (John McIntire) was flipping cards, while proprietor Jack Riker (John Alexander) was worried about signs of Indians on the warpath (smoke on the adjacent hillside), following the recent Custer's Last Stand.

[Note: Custer's Last Stand occurred only two weeks earlier on June 25, 1876, and the slow-moving news of the disastrous massacre at the Battle of the Little Big Horn by Sioux Indians was just now circulating on the frontier.]

Lamont was wary: "Injun smoke always means the same -- trouble!" Shortly later, Lamont described the massacre: "Sioux jumped Custer! Wiped out his whole command!" Riker disapproved of Lamont's shady and illegal occupation of selling guns to Indians: "There's some things that even I wouldn't sell to an Indian!"

'Dutch' and his two outlaw buddies entered Riker's, and asked if they could purchase three six-guns and ammunition (44-40s) for the Winchester, but couldn't afford Lamont's $300 dollar price tag. 'Dutch' steadfastly refused Lamont's offer to buy his Winchester rifle (and some six-shooter guns and ammunition) in exchange for $300 in gold, but agreed to a poker game to increase his funds from about $80 dollars. Card-shark Lamont wiped out Dutch's funds when he won a game with three kings, calling it "beginner's luck." Then, Lamont repeated his offer of $300 dollars for the expensive Winchester (and for a few other six-guns), but 'Dutch' remained reluctant.

His cohorts pressured him: "It's a long, hungry ride to Tascosa (Texas) without money!" - and Lamont cautioned about the Indian presence "with all that smoke in the hills and you with no guns." With no other alternative, 'Dutch' agreed to the deal and sold the Winchester. As Dutch's gang members searched through Lamont's stock of guns that he was planning to trade with the Indians, they found it difficult to select weapons for themselves that weren't defective:

I'll be happy to find one of these things that works! No wonder the Indians try to shoot around trees!.. There's nothin' here but a bunch of junk.

To card-shark Lamont's surprise, 'Dutch' proposed another hand of poker, and bet all $300 in his new gold-coin sack to win back his rifle. He was confident that he had a strong hand - a 'full house' (3 aces and two 8's). He demanded that Lamont match him: "It's gonna cost you $300 to draw cards!" Hustler Lamont accepted the exorbitant bet, and then 'Dutch' confidently laid down his cards: "Aces full on eights! Just missed bein' a dead man's hand!" - a symbolic foreshadowing of loss or death.

[Note: According to legend, famed gunslinger and lawman Wild Bill Hickok held a similar hand, two-pair (aces and 8's) when he was murdered at the Number Ten Saloon in Deadwood, South Dakota, on August 2, 1876, almost a month later! So the idea that "a Dead Man's Hand" was a common phrase wouldn't have been true.]

However, Lamont's hand of four 3s was stronger and beat him. Riker held a shotgun on the enraged loser 'Dutch' who threatened Lamont with one of the six-shooter guns, but allowed the gang to leave in peace, with one additional rifle and some shells.

In the next sequence, gun-trader Lamont met with bare-chested Indian chief-brave Young Bull (a miscast Rock Hudson) (probably a Comanche?), sporting war face-paint and feather pigtails. Young Bull observed that the guns offered for sale were "old, worn out," and accused the unscrupulous white-man trader for lying and cheating him with defective merchandise ("All white men are thieves. In peace, they steal our land! In war, they kill our women! And you are a white man!"). He demanded better weapons (repeating rifles) in order to fight off encroaching US government soldiers and homesteaders - to repeat the success of the Sioux weeks earlier against General Custer:

If you want my gold, bring me the guns with which Crazy Horse and the Sioux of the north made their war at the Little Big Horn!

Young Bull's eye caught Lamont's fabled Winchester rifle holstered in his saddle (seen in close-up), and he wouldn't accept Lamont's refusal to sell: "This is gun I want." The scene ominously faded to black.

From a towering outcropping, the three outlaws spotted Lamont a far distance away with his back to them, sitting before a smoking fire. 'Dutch' fired a rifle before the gang approached on horseback, where they found Lamont already dead from a scalping (off-screen only). Again, 'Dutch' was incensed that his stolen Winchester was now in the hands of a native: "Some Indian's got my gun!"

At Riker's during an evening meal, McAdam and High-Spade learned that 'Dutch' was on his way to Tascosa, Texas (a two-day's ride), to meet up with 'Waco' Johnny Dean, a notorious, low-life killer "which in any man's language means trouble." McAdam insisted that they continue their pursuit - High-Spade repeated their usual refrain about their lengthy pursuit: "We've never been this close before!"

[Note: Tascosa, Texas, located on the Canadian River, was the former capital of a number of counties in the Texas Panhandle plains, about 25 miles NW of Amarillo. In 1881, Tascosa became the county seat (until 1915) of Oldham County. Because Tascosa was located on a major cattle trail in the Panhandle, it was known as "The Cowboy Capital of the Plains (or Texas Panhandle)." It briefly served as an economic rival of Dodge City, Kansas, located about 250 miles to its NE, and was tied to it by the cattle trail. According to historical records, 10 fatal shootouts occurred in Tascosa in the 1880s, including one five-minute 1886 saloon fight in which four died. Notorious bad men and outlaws, such as Billy the Kid and Dave Rudabaugh, and lawman Pat Garrett were well-known there. A cemetery was set up in the town in 1879, also named "Boot Hill Cemetery" after the famed one in Dodge City, to accommodate the dead.]

The first shot of the next sequence was a tracking vertical closeup of the Winchester held in the hand of horse-mounted Young Bull. The war-mongering brave was accompanied by about a dozen war-painted warriors who watched from a high vantage point as an open buckboard wagon crossed over some hills. Ostracized saloon-hall singer-dancer Lola was next to her respectable fiancee, Steve Miller (Charles Drake) as they rode to their new ranch home they were planning to purchase ("the old Jameson place, about 40 miles outside of Tascosa"). One of their wagon wheels was squeaking loudly because it hadn't been greased sufficiently. Steve revealed he still had some unfinished business with "some fellas" (hinting at a bank robbery to make money for the ranch purchase).

They were tracked from a parallel ridge by Young Bull's whooping Indians, and Steve feared that the left ungreased rear wheel would split off when they tried to outrun the natives. In a panic, he jumped onto their spare third horse and rode for help, leaving Lola completely abandoned and alone on the wagon. Fortunately, he quickly located a small encampment of US cavalry officers in a wooded area nearby, rode back to Lola with the news ("Cavalry in the valley!"), and she ably steered the wagon into the camp before the Indians caught up to them. Neglecting her cowardly fiancee's presence, she kissed the elderly commanding officer Sgt. Wilkes (Jay C. Flippen) to thank him for saving her life. The Sgt. was flabbergasted by the attention: "Never thought I'd have a woman around when I cashed in my chips!" To Steve, the Sgt. pointed out how they were still stranded and in mortal danger - they were encircled by groups of Indians: "Them Indians been keepin' us pinned down all day."

Meanwhile, during a night ride on a hilly rim, McAdam and High-Spade heard threatening animal calls (the mimicking of Indians) ("We're smack in the middle of 'em"), and High-Spade jokingly worried about losing his hair due to a scalping. Gunfire behind them signaled an Indian attack, and they raced right into the same US cavalry camp where Steve and Lola had earlier fled for safety. McAdam was reacquainted with Lola whom he had briefly seen being dragged from Dodge City by Marshal Earp. Sgt. Wilkes worried about a night-time Indian raid, but it was not forthcoming. He described how his troops from the Pennsylvania Ninth (the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry) were inexperienced replacement forces heading toward Fort Bascom. [Note: Factually, the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry was disbanded at the end of the Civil War, in 1865.] They had been riding west ever since picking up their mounts at Fort Smith. As part of the Pennsylvania Ninth fighting on the Union side, the grizzled Wilkes remembered combat against the hard-fighting Rebel forces at Gettysburg, and further battles at Shiloh and Bull Run. [Note: This was another factual error. The 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry was not engaged in those three Civil War battles.] And then Wilkes surmised that an Indian attack wouldn't come until dawn:

They figure if they're killed in the dark, the Great Spirit can't find their souls and whip 'em up to heaven!

McAdam offered some strategic guidance and advice - he suggested that the men get some sleep, while two sentries stood guard (on four-hour shifts), to prepare for an expected raid the next morning. High-Spade asked about their chances of survival, and McAdam replied: "What chances?" McAdam offered his saddle as a soft pillow for Lola, who was beginning to realize that Steve wasn't as knowledgeable, brave or gentlemanly. Sgt. Wilkes spoke to one of the young and novice cavalry recruits named Doan (Tony Curtis) about growing old: "My woman's got yellow hair! Did have yellow hair! It's white now!...Home with the kids. Got one bigger than you are." Around the campfire, McAdam told Lola that he was single, and that his father had been killed - another clue to his determined search for 'Dutch'. She asked if he was afraid about the coming day and he honestly replied that he was.

The next morning over coffee with the Sergeant, McAdam tactically analyzed the Sioux Indians' and Crazy Horse's massacre of 7th Cavalry forces led by General George A. Custer. He attributed the Indian's victory to the fact that they had repeating rifles:

Clever fighters, those Sioux! It seems they knew all about your Springfields being single-shot!...They sent in the first wave light so it'd draw the fire! Then they sent in a heavy second wave before the Custer men had a chance to reload!

McAdam suggested that the threatening Indians might use the same trick-strategy with repeaters, but they could be 'outfoxed' because their side also had some repeating weapons ("two Winchesters, and a Henry!"), and could anticipate what would happen and save most of their fire for the "second wave."

Just before the anticipated Indian attack, McAdam offered his revolver to Lola and suggested suicide to avoid live capture: "Just in case you, uh...", and she implicitly knew: "I understand about the last one." After tense moments of silence, a deafening attack of dozens of Indians on horseback made a frontal assault on the beleaguered cavalry troopers. Waves and waves of Indian warriors suicidally charged straight at the small encampment. Just before the final surge that came from an additional rear angle, McAdam yelled out: "Let's concentrate on the chief! We get him, we might have a chance!" The fierce battle ended soon after Indian leader Young Bull was shot and killed by McAdam and the remainder sheepishly retreated. [Note: It was a biased and unrealistic situation - only one white cavalryman was killed in the attack, although dozens of natives were easily taken down in the attack, choreographed as a carnival's target shoot.] The Winchester '73 was seen lying in the dirt next to the fallen chief.

As McAdam and High-Spade departed to continue their search for Dutch, McAdam advised the Sergeant: "Out here we play winner take all! No use leaving all those repeating rifles lying out there to rust!" And then the two admitted that they were Confederates who had fought against the Sergeant and the Union forces, but they amiably shook hands and wished each other good luck. Lola remembered to return McAdam's gun loaned to her, and remarked: "The last one's still there." She requested the final suicide bullet as a keepsake (a phallic symbol):

May I have it? You just never know when a girl might need a bullet!

As they rode away, the two passed by the Winchester '73 rifle unnoticed on the ground. Afterwards, trooper Doan saw the famed gun with the unengraved plate on the gun-stock, and he alerted the Sergeant. The rifle was offered to Steve and Lola for their protection: "I hope you won't think this is second best, but one of you fellas oughta have this!...Take it with the thanks of the US Cavalry, to protect your lady! And I wish it was a Congressional Medal for Bravery! You earned it!"

A close-up of the gun revealed that it was next to Steve in the buckboard carriage, as he and Lola pulled up to the Jameson farm, their potential new ranch home outside of Tascosa, Texas. They were greeted at the door by a very hospitable Mrs. Jameson (Virginia Mullen), the wife of Jimmy Jameson (away in town), and the mother of their two young children: Bonnie Jameson (Bonnie Kay Eddy) and Gary (Gary Jackson). Lola expressed an immediate attraction to the "cute kids," and Steve eagerly hinted that he wanted to have a family with her: "As soon as we get married, I guess you'll be wantin' kids! They got plenty of room for it here!" - Lola did not respond.

Steve again insisted that he had to go to town to meet up with 'Waco' Johnny Dean, whom Lola knew was "no-good." She was growing more uncertain, disapproving and skeptical of Steve's judgment, character, and personality. He even admitted that he had been cowardly:

It's on account of what I did back there!...I won't lie to ya! I went yellow! Crazy yellow! It-It came over me all of a sudden! But I came back for you! You know I came back for you! I'd, I'd give my eyes if it didn't happen! And someday I'll prove it to you!

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