Tuesday 10 July 2012

Stagecoach (1939)

The first time I saw ”Stagecoach” was in high school. Our English teacher had a penchant for cool stuff. Old westerns, sci-fi literature and cool music. I am not sure I appreciated it enough at the time, a teenage thing I suppose, but looking back this is where my own interest in these things started. And the Stagecoach was definitely a highlight.

I never saw it since and when it appeared on the list it was a cause of equal amounts of anticipation and dread. Too often have expectations ruined the experience. Rarely will those sweet old memories be justified.

I need not have feared. “Stagecoach” is every bit as good as I remembered. Better in fact because I am now much better able to catch the undertones and the deeper stories and not just enjoy a stagecoach in flat out run across the plain with a horde of Indians on its tall, guns blazing (though that part is still totally awesome).

The “Stagecoach” is almost a monument to the western genre. There are so many classic elements that many of them are borderline cliché. Westerns had been around since the birth of cinema, but I dare say that they would not be the same after “Stagecoach”. We have a limited group of people confined to a stagecoach going through hostile territory. Yes, there are Indians and yes, they are on the warpath, but that is just a setting, a part of the confinement. These people are really on their own.

We got:

a.       The strong and fair representative of the law, Marshall Curly.

b.      The big, shrill, but also common sense coachman Buck.

c.       The young rancher Ringo Kid, who is out to revenge the murders of his family, but detained by Curly to protect him from getting killed himself.

d.      The doctor, Doc Boone, who is thrown out of town for immoral behavior (a very serious and steady intake of alcohol)

e.      His new best friend Peacock, the timid salesman in whiskey

f.        The prostitute Dallas, who is also driven from town by the League of Law and Order aka. League of bitchy old hags

g.       Old, righteous and very loud Gatewood, stalwart guardian of conservative values.

h.      The young Mrs. Mallory, the wife of a cavalry officer stationed on the frontier and a real lady of the old south.

i.         The noble gambler, maybe or maybe not a gentleman, but certainly self-appointed guardian of the only true lady of the ride.

Who are “good” and who are “scum”? And what happens when these very different, yet archetypical characters are subjected to outside pressure and forced to work it out together?

This is a classic story and we get it all here. The moments of glory for the “scum” who just might be all right after all and the righteous people may have to reconsider the opinions. I will not reveal all the details; this is a movie that must be given the chance to speak for itself.

John Wayne is of course John Wayne, but this is also the movie that made John Wayne. And while he is definitely a lead, this is very much a group movie where the unit is the real star and he leaves plenty room for the others. In fact John Wayne only appears about 20 minutes into the movie.

If I should sum up the “Stagecoach” in a single word it would be “classic”, and that is really sufficient.



  1. I agree with what you said. I wasn't expecting Stagecoach to live up to its hype, but it did. It does. It's exactly as you said - a classic.

  2. The film that made John Wayne a star, and the one that introduced director John Ford to Monument Valley - a site he would re-visit for other films.

    I liked this movie quite a bit.

  3. The cinematography is pretty awesome, too.

    1. It is indeed. Just about everything about this film is worth watching.