Written and Posted by Sarah
This has to be the most remembered, or should I say admired, film from Dan Duryea's long and prolific Hollywood career. It may not be the "historically correct" film to choose, but just browse through the online world and you'll see that a lot of people know "that guy" who played Waco Johnny Dean in Winchester '73.
I'm not going to go into a synopsis of this film, so if you would like to see thefull story from TCM just CLICK HERE. I am just going to continue with notes about the film --- particularly as it relates to Dan Duryea.
This is not your typical Western. My sister and I love westerns. We've watched a lot of them, and it's getting hard to find "new" ones that we haven't seen. Winchester '73 really stands out. For one thing, it is one of the two westerns that finally turned our Mom into an admirer of "cowboy movies". This is a film that you won't forget --- ever.
The cast is loaded with fabulous actors, but the four whose names are above the title are James Stewart, Shelley Winters, Dan Duryea and Stephen McNally. However, we don't want to forget Millard Mitchell, Jay C. Flippen, John McIntire, Will Geer, Rock Hudson and a very young Tony Curtis (for a brief appearance). This isn't a "light" western. In fact, it's rather dark and "dusty". It probably shows the American West in a bit of a truer light than many other Hollywood films. People aren't all nice and honest. They get tired and dirty. There are some some nice people, some mean people, some bad people.
Jimmy Stewart had a very lucrative contract for this film. He wanted to make Harvey, so Universal made a deal with him. He could make Harvey and Winchester '73 if he settled for a percentage of the profits --- instead of his usual flat fee. In the end, Stewart walked away with a contract entitling him to 50% of the film profits and control over the director and co-stars. Since this film was unexpectedly popular at the box office, Stewart ended up making something in the area of $600,000!
Despite his name being the third billed, Dan Duryea doesn't come into the picture until the last half. But when he comes in --- you know he's arrived. Dan's acting is fabulous. He rides in amidst a shootout and goes out with a bang. Waco Johnny Dean is all bad. And he's got the black hat to prove it. Stephen McNally is also bad in this one, so they're a real pair. Dan's swagger is at an all-time "top" in this one. He thinks he's unbeatable and can get anything he wants --- whenever he wants it.
Don't read any farther if you haven't seen this film yet.
Dan's acting is great. He makes the character of Waco Johnny Dean completely unforgettable, but it's Dan's death scene that takes the cake, as you might say. It's a death like you'll never see anywhere else on film (rivaled only by Dan's death in another western, Silver Lode!), and you'll never forget it. Dan tries to double cross Jimmy Stewart in the saloon by reaching for his gun with his left hand. Silly boy! Doesn't he know not to mess with the star of the movie?! Stewart walks him out of the saloon at the point of a rifle, but Dan's got one more trick up his sleeve. He grabs a gun from a spectator and turns to shoot Stewart. Never fear! Shelley Winters is there to warn our hero on time and Stewart shoots first. This leaves Dan in the middle of the street and he takes a few seconds to die --- his pistol blazing the whole time. It's not like any other shoot-out in a western.
Of course, there is still another shoot-out to come as Stewart catches up with McNally. This, too, is unlike anything you've ever seen. The two practice the art of ricocheting bullets --- wow! During Stewart's confrontation with Dan in the saloon (before these final shoot-outs), Dan gets pushed down (by an angry Stewart) onto the bar. This scene is credited with the "rejuvenation" of Stewart's box-office success. Fan's found out that Jimmy could be tough.
He doesn't appear much throughout the center of the film, though the character is referred to quite often. He's back in full force for the finale, however. The final shootout is a spoof on all of the typical Western finales. Dan forces poor Melody Jones to swap clothes with him. He's planning on killing Jones, so that the law will mistake his body for the outlaw. Fortunately, Cherry arrives in time to stop this dastardly deed. She sends Jones out to the barn (where she follows after having words with Jarrad). The law has the place surrounded by this time, but they stand back to let "Coop" and Dan shoot it out. Of course, Dan has the upper hand in this fight, since he actually knows how to aim a six-shooter. He shoots Cooper in the arm, leg and other places. But, just when our hero is about finished, Cherry steps in and gets Dan right between the eyes. The end of this film is just hilarious, so I won't spoil it here.
So, this is one of Dan's roles that is an absolute "must see". He's anything but sympathetic, but it's a remarkable piece of acting.