Title: Stagecoach (1939)
Director: John Ford
Stars: John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Thomas Mitchell, John Carradine and Andy Devine
A stagecoach is leaving for Lordsburg, even though a wire has been received stating that Geronimo could be in the vicinity. The passengers all agree to go despite the danger, for their own various reasons. Included are a prostitute named Dallas (Trevor), a constantly inebriated doctor called Josiah Boone (Mitchell) and a shady yet courteous gambler named Hatfield (Carradine). As they proceed through the unforgiving wilderness they encounter the sprightly Ringo Kid (Wayne), who is taken into custody by the marshall who is on the stagecoach. As they spend more time together they learn more about each other and their preconceptions begin to melt away. Dallas in particular, who was shunned at the beginning, is starting to gain more respect. As they near their destination, they must made a mad dash past the best of Geronimo’s forces, all while low on ammunition and adequate gun slingers.
Stagecoach is the movie that launched a thirty-two year old John Wayne into superstardom and ultimate legend. The rushing close-up of his entry to the movie is an iconic shot in film history. As he twirls his Winchester, you can tell he’s going to be a star. Amazingly Wayne had already churned out over 80 movies at this stage. Thomas Mitchell won a much deserved Best Supporting Oscar for his lauded turn as the drunken doctor. Constantly in good humour and coming through when it counts, he is a real highlight. John Carradine scores very well as the dashing Hatfield. He was the father of the famous Carradine acting dynasty (most famously David and Keith). He was only thirty-three at the time but looked much older. Claire Trevor was the most well known star at the time, so got the highest pay of all the actors on show.
Westerns were very much out of vogue at the time of Stagecoach’s release, but the movie was so good that it reinvigorated the genre. Many thought that they were too difficult to shoot on location, but John Ford was undaunted, utilising the now iconic Monument Valley as the stunning backdrop for this picture. The film’s score was also highly memorable and rightly won the second of its two Oscars. It is very stirring and uplifting and really matches the action scenes perfectly.
Many at the time of its release and since, have asked why didn’t the Indians simply shoot the horses to stop the stagecoach? John Ford’s answer was that the movie would then be over! If you can overlook this fact, which many obviously have, you will enjoy a thoroughly great western. A truly iconic motion picture.