Classic Film Guide

Stagecoach (1939)

One of the most comprehensive Westerns you'll ever see in that it contains all the familiar storylines, (what would become stereotypical) characters, scenery (e.g. Monument Valley) and other elements one associates with the genre. Appropriately, it was directed by John Ford and it features his first collaboration with lead actor John Wayne, whose role as the Ringo Kid helped to make him a star. Written by Dudley Nichols (The Informer (1935)), who based his screenplay on an Ernest Haycox story, the credited cast also includes (top billed) Claire Trevor, Andy Devine, John Carradine, Thomas Mitchell who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar playing Doc Boone (a drunken doctor role remarkably similar to his only other Academy Award nominated performance in The Hurricane (1937) a few years earlier), Louise Platt, George Bancroft, Donald Meek, Berton Churchill, Tim Holt, and Tom Tyler. The film also received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, director Ford, Editing, Art Direction, and B&W Cinematography; its Score won an Oscar. It was added to the National Film Registry in 1995. #63 on AFI's 100 Greatest Movies list.

Dallas (Trevor) and Doc Boone (Mitchell) are being run out of town by its more proper residents; she for being a prostitute, he for his drunkenness on the job. Marshal Curly Wilcox (Bancroft) makes sure both make it onto that afternoon's (titled) stage, driven by the talkative (to the point of annoyance) Buck, played by Devine, whose over loud and cracking voice are perfect(ly obnoxious) for the role. Society's Lucy Mallory (Platt) insists on traveling to rendezvous with her husband, despite having to share the coach with the shunned Dallas. Gambler Hatfield (Carradine), smitten with Mrs. Mallory, decides to go along as well. Doc is thrilled to assist the reluctant liquor salesman Samuel Peacock (the apt named Meek) aboard with his (soon to be free) samples too. When cavalry Lieutenant Blanchard (Holt) arrives to tell of Apaches on the route, Marshal Wilcox decides to ride shotgun. On the way out of town, they pick up banker Henry Gatewood (Churchill) who, unbeknownst to the others, has just embezzled some valuable assets. Along the way through Monument Valley, they encounter an escaped prisoner, The Ringo Kid (the camera zooms in, and then focuses on Wayne), who's wanted for avenging one who'd killed his brother and vows to get the rest, Luke Plummer (Tyler) and his two brothers, to finish the job. The marshal arrests him on the spot.

Dallas is the hooker with the heart of gold that dreams the impossible dream of finding a more normal happiness as Ringo's wife; upon joining the others, he was instantly taken with her and, without knowing her past, had insisted that the others treat her as a lady, like Mrs. Mallory. She turns out to be pregnant, in the days when showing this fact (i.e. gaining a lot of weight) was frowned upon, which explains why she's so intent on reaching her husband. Doc is quickly sobered up and called into action. Upon his success, he's suddenly respected by the others for the first time on the journey. Dallas earns Mrs. Mallory's appreciation by assisting with the delivery and caring for her child. Of course, the stagecoach makes it through Indian territory; initially they'd had to go it alone without an escort, but the cavalry arrives just in time (as they've run out of bullets and Hatfield was just about to use his last shot to save Mrs. Mallory the horror of falling under the savages control) to save the day. Upon arriving in town, Gatewood is arrested and Ringo has his showdown with the Plummers, with predictable results, while the supportive Marshal decides to look the other way. As the story ends, Dallas and Ringo ride off into the sunrise (presumably, he's to serve the rest of his time in prison while she waits at his ranch).

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