Movie One Hundred Fifty One
Stagecoach is the story of a group of people traveling by stagecoach through dangerous Apache territory.
A group of strangers gathers to travel from Arizona territory to New Mexico territory. The group includes Dallas (Claire Trevor), a prostitute, Lucy (Louise Platt) who is a cavalryman’s wife, a doctor named Boone (Thomas Mitchell) more interested in alcohol than anything medical, and a whiskey salesman named Samuel Peacock (Donald Meek). They set out led by driver, Buck (Andy Devine) and accompanied by Marshal Wilcox (George Bancroft) along with the US Cavalry to help them through the dangerous territory. As they are leaving they are joined by proud Southerner, Hatfield (John Carradine) and a bank employee embezzeling $50,000 named Gatewood (Berton Churchill). Along the way the group picks up the fugitive Ringo Kid (John Wayne) too as they make their trip and the troubles that arise.
While the synopsis may sound confusing, all of that happens within the first 20 minutes or so of the film starting. The ensemble cast is introduced and each of them brings something unique to the troupe. Stagecoach was the first big time Western film made, bringing the entire genre to a level it hadn’t seen before and since its release in 1939 was a founding film of the 50s-era Westerns as well as several other John Ford / John Wayne collaborations.
Stagecoach is special in that the entire cast is so unique and ranges from humorous to serious without feeling like complete characterizations. While some of their prominent traits may now seem a bit overused, for the time of the film’s release, it’s remarkably well done. John Ford certainly pulled off a masterpiece long before the common era for Westerns to really hit cinema. The landscapes are beautiful, even in black and white, and the pacing of the script never gets too bogged down in individual character drama. The only Western I think I prefer over Stagecoach is the later Ford/Wayne work, The Searchers.
The Criterion release of Stagecoach is, of course, nothing short of amazing. The Blu-Ray restoration is impeccable and the only downsides I really saw were the black levels during some of the outdoor shots being a bit faded. As an entire package, with the supplemental features and booklet, Stagecoach is a top-notch addition to any Western film fan’s collection.
I give it 4 young John Waynes out of 5.