The opening scene of Winchester’73 involves young boys and grown men alike admiring a prized Winchester rifle, establishing the glorification of the violence which this weapon represents.
This movie portrays the direct association between violence and masculinity. The men in the film are very protective of their guns, as they know that these tools of violence determine their masculinity. The film suggests that a man who can use violence most skillfully prevails. The men in the film whom are clearly the most masculine are those who appear in very worn clothes with 5’oclock shadow; juxtaposed with the clearly meant to be less masculine Steve Miller who is much cleaner looking, as well as a coward when confronted with danger. Predictably, Steve is killed in a gun fight for his lack of violent skill, and thus lacking masculinity. These ideas are further explored in the film in the form of Lin and Dutch. Lin, the admirable masculine hero, uses his mastery of violence in the form of sharpshooting to win the prized Winchester; Dutch, the deplorable villain, then uses his own version of mastery of violence to jump Lin and steal the prize.
While we are meant to admire Lin, we are clearly meant to despise Dutch. In looking at both of their actions, both men can be deemed equally as masculine, and they use violence to serve their own means. Why then, is Lin the good guy and Dutch the bad guy? Why is violence acceptable by Lin and condemned by others?
These ideas illustrate much about our history concerning the West. The idea that violence is good when committed by certain individuals is linked with manifest destiny. The idea that we are the chosen ones, with a god given right to expand by any means necessary, even if that includes the forceful and violent removal of Native Americans from their land, due to the American mentality that “it’s ok when we do it.”