Release Date: February 2nd, 1939
Directed by: John Ford
Written by: Dudley Nichols
Based on: The Stage to Lordsburg by Ernest Haycox
Music by: Louis Gruenberg, Richard Hageman, W. Franke Harling, John Leipold, Leo Shuken
Cast: Claire Trevor, John Wayne, Thomas Mitchell, John Carradine, Andy Devine, George Bancroft
Walter Wanger Productions, United Artists, 96 Minutes
“Well, there are some things a man just can’t run away from.” – Henry, the Ringo Kid
Stagecoach is a massively beloved western classic that went on to win Academy Awards and catapulted the career of John Wayne and his long partnership with director John Ford. While it isn’t my favorite western or Wayne film, it deserves its status, as it truly birthed what we know as westerns today.
When John Ford started making this picture, his colleagues warned him against it and said that making a western would be career suicide. If Ford hadn’t followed his gut and caved to the naysayers, the western genre, John Wayne and pop culture might not exist in quite the same way. This picture opened the floodgates for the genre and without it, kids might have never played cowboys and Indians and probably would’ve just stuck to cops and robbers or turned to something totally lame.
For modern audiences, this is a film full of genre cliches and it might be hard to see why it was such a great picture for its time. Everything you know about westerns, really started with Stagecoach. Every major trope you can think of is in this picture and compared to the films that came after it, there isn’t a whole lot that makes this feel original. But honestly, that is just a testament to how impactful this picture was. It set the stage for everything else to come.
It’s not super exciting and all the characters seem like cliches themselves but their differences serve the narrative well and the tension and conflict does effectively drive the plot. The action is just okay but there wasn’t a lot of great action in this era. Stuntmen existed, as John Wayne was one of them, but it obviously isn’t anything as over the top or exciting as what would come later in motion pictures.
John Wayne really carries the film with some help from leading lady Claire Trevor and the horror icon John Carradine. While Wayne does shine, he is not the lead and there isn’t as much meat in this role as he would later get to chew on.
Stagecoach is still a better than decent picture when compared to the genre, which flourished because of it. While I would recommend a slew of other westerns, the significance of this film cannot be denied.