Stagecoach (1939)

 

Yes, posters HAVE indeed come a long way since then.
Yes, posters HAVE indeed come a long way since then.

Genre: Western

Starring: John Wayne (Rio Bravo The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance), Claire Trevor (Key Largo Murder My Sweet)

Directed By: John Ford (The Searchers • The Grapes of Wrath)

Overview: A full stagecoach from Arizona bound for Lordsburg, New Mexico is complicated by dangers from Geronimo's Apache Indians.

I grew up not liking Westerns. When I started 'really getting into film' around 2005, all my horizons opened up like the painted desert and I realized that I was just plain wrong. Stagecoach is the most recent film deserving a tip of my 10-gallon hat.
 
We open with Buck, the stagecoach driver, coming into town, bound for Lordsburg, New Mexico. We quickly meet the other travelers and those joining in on the trip. Mrs. Mallory is the proper wife of a cavalry officer who is posted in Lordsburg. Doc Boone and Dallas are two people currently being ousted out of town by the Law And Order League. The doctor's a raging alcoholic and Dallas is well, less than reputable. Lucky for Doc that Mr. Peacock, a whiskey salesman with a bag full of samples, is joining in on the trip. The good doctor immediately befriends him, insisting on carrying his heavy bag of bottles for him. A proper, if mildly disreputable Southern gambler by the name of Hatfield joins the ride to assist Mrs. Mallory in getting to her husband. Then there's Gatewood, the surly banker. Marshall Curly Wilcox also hitches a ride in hopes of capturing the Ringo Kid, a man with a vendetta to settle in Lordsburg. As they head out they are made aware that Geronimo is on the war path. The trip will be dangerous and the cavalry will provide a partial escort for the stagecoach, at least until the fort at Dry Fork. With apprehension, the coach heads out for its destination.
That poor saddle gets it right between the eyes *sob*
That poor saddle gets it right between the eyes *sob*
 
Stagecoach's story plays out more like a drama than an action film. The characters are the focus and although there's enough moments of high adventure to go around, it really is about the dynamic shared by the people crammed into that confined space, with all their nobility and failings, from the stumbling drunken doctor as potentially being the only hope for some, while the captured outlaw Ringo Kid may be the only one skilled enough with a weapon to put up any kind of a fight against scores of Apaches moving to scalp them all. In fact, part of what made this Western so successful in 1939 box offices was Ford and screenwriter Dudley Nichols (Judge PriestThe Big Sky)  attempt at making it appeal more to women by adding drama over gunfights, and it works. 
 
First of all, there's a young John Wayne in one of his most successful early roles. Claire Trevor, player of dirty girl Dallas, is a beautiful and talented actress that will certainly have me going out my way to find her talents in other films. Andy Devine as Buck the driver, provides a hefty amount of comic relief but also adds an everyman quality to the script that helps make Stagecoach just a little more real, a little less filmic.
 
Marshal Curly Wilcox: Come busting in here - you'd think we were being attacked! You can find another wife.
Chris: Sure I can find another wife. But she take my rifle and my horse. Oh, I'll never sell her. I love her so much. I beat her with a whip and she never get tired.
Dr. Josiah Boone: Your wife?
Chris: No, my horse. I can find another wife easy, yes, but not a horse like that!

 
What surprises more than anything is the degree of humour in this adventure. Amidst the tension and danger we have frequent situations deserving of good laughs that are well done without taking away the weight of the threats that surround our characters. All told there's something here for everyone and a couple hours of cinema that quickly lets you forget it's a study of a classic.
See, that's the stagecoach they keep refering to.
See, that's the stagecoach they keep referring to.

 

Performance: 9 Cinematography: 7 Script: 8 Plot: 8 Mood: 8

Overall Rating: 80% (SaddleUp)
Aftertaste:

Add that it got the Criterion treatment and what you got to lose?

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