A primitive revenge western?
In my opinion, Winchester '73 suffers severely from a heavy-handed and highly moralistic writing of Borden Chase. Much has been said about the fact that James Stewartss character is at the verge of madness and some see this as a sign of complex morality. The logic seems to be that the presence of a mentally unstable hero surely must express an attempt to deconstruct the myth of the hero. However, this view overlooks the simple fact, that the extreme emotions of the hero are not first and foremost expressions of his own disposition but caused by the severity of the crime committed by the bad guy. It is true that one could imagine less extreme reactions to this crime - but that is just what makes Lin McAdam a hero: his sensitiveness and his deep moral integrity. A Western Hamlet, so to speak.
In other words, the morality of the movie is disturbingly primitive. We have a sensitive and highly moral hero on hand and an extremely slimy bad guy on the other. The effect is that the movie is a dangerously powerful endorsement of revenge.