Jimmy Stewart and his trail buddy come a-ridin’ into Dodge City on the day of the Centennial, July 4, 1876. (Not much over a week after the Battle of the Little Bighorn.) They meet Wyatt Earp (Will Geer, in a bit of castin’ even he thought was odd) and have to surrender their shootin’ irons, as all citizens do when in town. And a good thing, too, because the polecat Jimmy was a-lookin’ to kill is right there in the saloon, also unarmed. There is a shootin’ contest for a fabulous one-in-a-thousand edition of the famous Winchester 1973 rifle. Jimmy wins it by shootin’ a hole plumb though a postage stamp glued to a washer and tossed in the air. (Apparently a real sharpshooter, off camera, really made that shot!) But the nefarious polecat robs him of the rifle afore he can even git outta town.
Up to here it is all pretty much standard western fare, but what follows is a wickedly ironic series of events. Gittin’ that rifle turns out to be the unluckiest thing that ever happened to a series of people. This was a ground-breakin’ movie for Stewart, whose career was in a slump. After this, he felt free to take on more challengin’ roles, didn’t have to play the nice guy all the time. It’s a great script and good actin’ for all involved. It was the first of many western collaboration between Jimmy and Anthony Mann. Unexpected pleasure: Spottin’ Tony Curtis in a small role only a year into his career, and Rock Hudson, also unknown at the time, as an Injun Chief! Look for the swastika on his saddlebags. Not a Nazi symbol, many Indian tribes used it, but I’m surprised they used it only five years after the war.