Stagecoach (1939)

The movie that launched John Wayne's career, "Stagecoach" feels like a melodrama wrapped inside a western...scratch that, it is a melodrama wrapped inside a western. From the first moment that the odd characters assembles inside the title vehicle, it's clear that what they're heading towards—or leaving behind—is less important that the journey itself. Not only is the how important, "Stagecoach" makes us want to know how the different characters interact...that's the real drama of the piece.
Beginning in a typical western town, the treat of Indian attack weighs heavy on all who go venturing out into the flat and hot land. "Stagecoach" introduces us to several characters, one is a man who drives a stagecoach for a living, another is a doctor who spends all of his waking hours in a drunken stupor, and one is a mysterious woman. Add to this a few uptight characters, people with shady background, and the stories of a outlaw named Ringo Kid and you have yourself a fairly decent plot.
Even though the Apache and Geronimo are greatly feared, a few travelers set out to attempt to make it to another town. Some are going because they were kicked out of town, some are going to meet loved ones, and some are just there for the heck of it.
The introduction to the many characters, the time it takes for the film to pick up speed very much feels like the slow gait of a stagecoach; but it does get moving eventually.
When we finally meet the infamous Ringo Kid (John Wayne), it's really not that surprising. There was so much talk of him that we knew we had to bump into him eventually. Plus, this way we have more drama.
drama drama drama
The stagecoach moves on with the help of some officers who lend a hand. Ringo Kid is going to be put into jail when the coach gets to the city it's traveling towards.
Yet we all know that the ride if more fun, this way the landscape of the west is shown in bitter beauty. The long shots featuring the wide open spaces never looked better. The dusty sand gets kicked up and taken off by the wind. The coach moves on.
When the company reaches a resting place they find themselves at the mercy of nature, the natives, and strangers.
It does feel soap-opertic the way the movie twists and turns so rapidly, yet John Ford somehow makes this work. He fashions characters from performances. We know how a character will think because of how the actor portrays them.
It's a fun movie, but it wouldn't survive in today's climate. The Apache are the faceless villains of the film. The ever-present-rarely-seen-white-men-killers that fill up a large portion of the screen in name only. They kill for the sake of killing. They are cruel for the sake of being cruel. And menacing such poor, lovely white folk, the audience is supposed to be very hateful towards them.
It proves that some films are daring and some films are uneducated and some films could never be remade. The only notable western remake in recent years was the Coen brothers' "True Grit" which is a marvelous movie; but it proves that the real western could never be reproduced.
"Stagecoach" is an entertaining movie, and it tells a compelling story.
But it does feel kind of dusty.

Score: ★★★

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