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Winchester '73

Winchester '73

UPC: 025192033025

Format: DVD

Release Date: May 06, 2003

Rating: NR

Regular price $12.95 USD
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Anthony Mann's Winchester '73 was one of a tiny handful of vintage Universal titles given special treatment by MCA Home Video on laserdisc back in the 1980s -- it appeared in that format with a secondary audio narration by James Stewart, the movie's star. The 93-minute movie, which delivers enough action, story, color, characterization, and depth for three ordinary films, comes to us on DVD a half-generation later as part of the "Universal Western Collection." The difference between the two editions illustrates the advancement in the art of film-to-video transfer over 15 years -- the laserdisc was one of the better looking 12-inch video platters of its period, its major flaws being in the anomalies of the laser format itself. The DVD, by contrast, has pushed the film elements to their very limit: There are flaws in the source print, such as occasional, intermittent staining on certain shots early in the movie and an occasional jump in the frame; there is even some graininess in shots that looked just fine on the laser; and the checked shirts worn by Stephen McNally's villain and by Riker (the frontier bar owner) shimmer in the medium shots in the ultra-clear transfer. On the other hand, the transfer is so beautifully done in the sections that work perfectly (which is 98 percent of the movie) that it's a joy to behold. The tight close-up of the first fight between Stewart's and McNally's characters is lit like a shot out of a classic film noir; the scene at the bar between John McIntire and McNally is so clean and clear that the intended suspense pours off the screen, oozing around every syllable in McIntire's silky smooth reading of his part -- the smoke from the cigarettes looks like it's in the room with you; and the darkening sky around Stewart and Millard Mitchell as they cross the desert is totally enveloping. This reviewer has seen Winchester '73 in every setting from classroom showings in 16 mm to repertory film screenings of newly struck 35 mm prints, and this is close to the latter in all the ways that anything screened in one's home can come. The audio interview with Stewart is in a class by itself -- no other actor of his stature or generation ever participated in a project like this. He was some years past his prime, but still had a good deal of energy, and he was well able to provide insights into the way that both Winchester '73 and Harvey (they were a package) were made, and the era in filmmaking that both movies represented. He is able to tell of the resistance to doing the movie on the part of most of the Hollywood studios, and Universal head Lew Wasserman's unique willingness to make the movie. He never really discusses much on a shot-by-shot basis -- apart from such scenes as the sharpshooting sequence and how it was done -- so much as his approach to character and his career. He does briefly discuss Will Geer, who portrays Wyatt Earp in the movie, in general terms, but never says anything about Geer's subsequent fate (the character actor was blacklisted soon after Winchester '73 for his liberal politics, and represented the ideological opposite of Stewart in Hollywood). He does talk about Anthony Mann a bit, but more often keeps his comments confined to recollections such as practicing for weeks with a rifle, so that when his character picks up his rifle in the shooting contest, every nuance shown that he is 100-percent comfortable with the gun. The movie gets 20 well-chosen and located chapters that break the action down very neatly. The multi-layered menu opens automatically on startup, and the interview is accessible in a second layer, along with the original trailer. French, Spanish, and English subtitles are also included.
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