As 'Western' cinema goes, the maintenance of key symbolic features are of critical importance, the action, the characters (personality and morals) , the clothing, settings and manner of speaking. All of these features appear and are to a degree exacerbated in the storyline of the classic western Winchester 73 (Directed by Anthony Mann) , starring veteran western actor, James Stewart (Bend the River (1952), The man from Laramie (1955))
The brilliant complexities that envelope the storyline are focused on 'The Gun that is winning the West' (also referred to as 1 in 1000), but the characters that use the gun as a staging point of contact between each other. Initially starting off in the possession of Lin McAdam (James Stewart) which he receives as a prize for a shooting contest against Dutch Henry Brown (the sadistic outlaw), leads to a series of unfortunate events, almost as if the gun hold a curse, except for the rightful owner.
within the overall story line of the morally righteous and masculine hero chasing a murderous, greedy and impatient outlaw, on a quest for revenge and retribution at a personal level.
The sub-stories focus on the transfer of the rifle, between a variety of western-mythical characters , who create a 'chain-link' for the story line, These include, Hero, Villain (and gang), Frontiersman, (white)Indian-Trader, Indian warriors, a 'Dandy' and his wife and the US cavalry. The agendas and means by which these individuals are linked to the gun, create a very exciting and brilliantly complex story line, that presents the main characters as not so clearly cut, the Hero with socially negative agenda (i.e. wants murderous revenge). The infusion of action, romance, comedy and tension, created a " frisky, fast-moving, funny Western in which a rifle is the apple of a cowboy's eye.'" (Crowther)
The symbolism of the Winchester 73 rifle, is more important to the characters rather than the actual item. The idea of possessing such a unique and prestigious piece of equipment , that was used by symbolic individual, is a clear presentation of that character prowess, and abilities, such as shooting ,which was measurement of an individual at that time. For such a advanced piece of weaponry, the Winchester 73' is very rarely used in the film, and many of the individual who at some point receive it, do not use it.
A review from IMDB ' assess the links between the symbolism of the gun and the effects it has in conjunction with all the characters and how Winchester 73' is a unique western in its use of a physical item for a plot base, instead of one fuelled from a emotional level.
'This emphasis on the gun, symbol of potent masculinity, actually allows for a critique of that masculinity, revealing pointless elaborate rituals at the expense of society and order; brute capitalist greed; murderous Indian-traders who defraud both seller and enemy; cowards; psychotic killers; before returning to its 'true' owner, a broken hero thoroughly compromised, who has become as murderous as the murderer he seeks. The gun is never imprinted with the name of its owner, not only because there is no fixed owner, but because there is no fixed masculinity, an insight anathema to the traditional Western.'
New York Times- Bosley Crowther (1950)