Stagecoach (1939)

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  • directed by John Ford
  • starring John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Andy Devine, John Carradine, Thomas Mitchell, Louise Platt, Donald Meek, Berton Churchill
  • A group of people traveling on a stagecoach find their journey complicated by the threat of Geronimo and learn something about each other in the process.

“Well, there are some things a man just can’t run away from.”

I can’t say that I’ve been the greatest fan of Westerns, but sure as heck if I didn’t just watch one of the best movies of my life. Not a bad one to finally connect with, mind you, Stagecoach basically fathered the entire genre as we now know it. It also marks John Ford’s first pairing with John Wayne and his first trip to the iconic Monument Valley. The Westerns I’ve had a bad time with usually feature a team of all the same type of gruff guy in a slow-moving expansive setting. Here, Ford puts the stoic cowboy type on a trip along with a motley crew of strangers, all bound on a wagon for Lordsburg for a variety of reasons—there’s the drunk doctor, the charismatic driver, the embezzler, the wife heading to reunite with her husband, the prostitute, the whiskey drummer, the southern gentleman, and The Ringo Kid (Wayne).

It would have been a great time just watching this group of characters interact on an uneventful trip across the plains. There’s something to be said for watching folks from all walks of life stuck in a single setting dealing with their issues, especially ones as fully realized as these. But from the beginning of their journey the threat of Geronimo and his Apache tribe loomed large. He could be anywhere from here to the horizon and they all knew it. There’s a lot of worrying about the Apache but we see no traces of them until the thrilling chase scene over an hour in. The logistics and choreography that must have gone into this sequence, along with the riding stunts, is simply astounding for the time.

All through the movie up until that point, it felt to me that this was a group of normal citizens (and a couple of criminals) in something of a wartime situation. When they stopped at Dry Fork and were at the table eating, I saw that entire scene play out as if it was a mess hall in the middle of a great battle. There was plenty of banter and even an unlikely romance between Ringo and Dallas. Conversation did stray from the topic of Geronimo, but never too far, and what Ford did here was take what is essentially the equivalent of a modern day taxi, place it squarely into a warzone, and have its passengers deal with an armed enemy and their personal dramas simultaneously.

Hey, this is pretty funny: Asked why, in the climactic chase scene, the Indians didn’t simply shoot the horses to stop the stagecoach, director John Ford replied, “Because that would have been the end of the movie.”

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About classixquest
all the things I should have seen

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