Inducted into the (USA ) National Film Registry by the National Film Preservation Board, in 1995
In many respects "Stagecoach"
is arguably the most significant sound Western ever made. It
was the first in a long line of films that Director John Ford
was to make in Monument Valley (an area he was to turn into his
own preserve), and the film that marks John Wayne's emergence
from B movie actor status to the rank of screen icon. Subsequently,
Ford and Wayne were to have one of the closest creative partnerships
in the history of film. At the very least this was the film that
rejuvenated the genre to such an effect that it can reasonably
be classified as the first modern Western.
The film's hero is the Ringo Kid (Wayne),
who is introduced to the audience in a dazzling tracking shot
that opens with him standing statuesquely, grasping his rifle,
and ends with a close-up of an anguished Kid who is being thwarted
in his attempt to revenge the murders of his father and brother.
He is picked up by the stagecoach and its diverse passengers
when his horse goes lame. The passengers are an interesting lot.
During the course of the film they will all reveal their true
natures in a series of classic Western rituals and conventions.
Most notable are Dallas (Claire Trevor), a hooker with a heart
of gold, and Doc Boone (Thomas Mitchell in an Academy Award winning
performance) as the philosophizing drunken town doctor. Indeed,
what is most fascinating about this film is its depiction's of
these assorted characters.
Based on an Ernest Haycox story the
film effectively utilizes a "Grand Hotel" / "Ship
of Fools" device ( a method wherein characters representing
various types are closely confined for a period of time and act
out in their relationships with one another the social structure
of their era and place). As in the films "Grand Hotel"
and "Ship of Fools" for which this device was named,
the films principle focus is on the interactions between these
diverse and colorful characters who have been thrown together
by fate and closely confined for a period of time. Their relationships
provide the audience with an opportunity to learn about the major
social issues and themes (most notably; social prejudice, alcoholism,
greed, redemption and revenge) of the times as they act out in
their relationships their representative social types.
In director Ford's capable hands we
are mesmerized as this diverse group of social misfits reveals
an intrinsic nobility in virtually all of their actions. From
Dallas' self sacrificing desire to care for Mrs. Mallory and her
baby to Wayne as the simultaneously innocent hero who is also
an escaped convict bent on revenge, as they all reveal their true
natures the viewer quickly realizes that none of the passengers
is what they initially appeared to be..
The film also features the dazzling
stunt work of one of Hollywood's premiere stuntmen, Yakima Canutt
(the Jackie Chan of his day). In one of the most spectacular,
stunts ever recorded on film an Apache (Canutt) leaps from his
horse onto the lead horses of the stagecoach's team. He is shot
by Ringo as he tries to grab the reins of the lead horse to control
the stagecoach. He is wounded and falls down among many sets
of thundering hooves, hanging on to the rig's shaft while dragging
along the ground. Then after being shot a second time, the Apache
warrior lets go - the six horses and the stage's carriage roll
right over his prone body. The sequence concludes as the camera
pulls back to reveal the wounded Indian climbing slowly to his
Ford's reputation was revitalized by
this film which won two Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor
and Best Score (which featured a total of 17 American folk tunes
of the 1880s).