Stagecoach


1h 36m 1939
Stagecoach

Brief Synopsis

A group of disparate passengers battle personal demons and each other while racing through Indian country.

Film Details

Genre
Adventure
Western
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Mar 3, 1939
Premiere Information
Los Angeles premiere: 2 Feb 1939
Production Company
Walter Wanger Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Monument Valley, Utah, USA
Screenplay Information
Based on the short story "Stage to Lordsburg" by Ernest Haycox in Collier's (Apr 1937).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 36m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
10 reels

Synopsis

In 1855, the Overland stage from Tonto to Lordsburg leaves town with eight people on board. In the front, sit Buck the driver and Marshal Curley Wilcox, who is riding shotgun to protect the stage from hostile Indians and from the Plummer brothers, a vicious band of outlaws. The passengers consist of Doc Josiah Boone, the town drunk; Dallas, a woman of ill repute, who, like Doc, has been banished from town; the pregnant Lucy Mallory, who is taking the stage to meet her husband, a cavalry officer, and is treated gallantly by her fellow passenger, Hatfield, a gambler; Gatewood, the town's sanctimonious banker who mouths respectability while clutching a carpet bag filled with stolen money; and Peacock, a timid whiskey drummer. Because of an Apache uprising by Geronimo, the cavalry escorts the coach to the first station at Dry Fork. Along the way, Buck stops to pick up the Ringo Kid, who has escaped from prison to seek revenge on the Plummers, who killed his family and sent him to jail on false testimony. After Curley arrests Ringo, the stage continues on to Dry Fork, where they discover that there are no troops to escort them farther. Voting to continue on alone, they reach the next stop, where their journey is delayed when Mrs. Mallory, learning that her husband has been wounded, goes into premature labor. Doc sobers up to deliver the baby, and as they await Mrs. Mallory's recovery, Dallas and Ringo fall in love and Dallas urges Ringo to escape. Ringo is on the verge of leaving when he sees Apache war signals, and the passengers hastily board the stage to make a desperate dash to Lordsburg. Just as they think the danger has passed, the Apaches attack at a dry lake bed, wounding Peacock and Buck and killing Hatfield. At the last minute, the cavalry rides to the rescue and escorts the stage to Lordsburg, where Gatewood is arrested for embezzlement. There, Curley grants Ringo his freedom so that he can avenge the murder of his family, and after gunning down the Plummers, Ringo and Dallas ride off into the night to begin life anew at his ranch across the border.

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Stagecoach (1939) - Movie Posters
Stagecoach (1939) - Movie Posters

Videos

Movie Clip

Hosted Intro

Promo

Film Details

Genre
Adventure
Western
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Mar 3, 1939
Premiere Information
Los Angeles premiere: 2 Feb 1939
Production Company
Walter Wanger Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Monument Valley, Utah, USA
Screenplay Information
Based on the short story "Stage to Lordsburg" by Ernest Haycox in Collier's (Apr 1937).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 36m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
10 reels

Award Wins

Best Score

1939

Best Supporting Actor

1939
Thomas Mitchell

Award Nominations

Best Art Direction

1939

Best Cinematography

1939

Best Director

1939

Best Editing

1939
Dorothy Spencer

Best Picture

1939

Articles

Behind the Camera (10/12)


The Breen Office, the censorship watchdog in Hollywood, rejected Dudley Nichols' treatment because of the story's sympathetic portrayal of the prostitute Dallas, Doc Boone's constant drunkenness, the Ringo Kid's thirst for revenge and the marshal's involvement in some deaths. Nichols' first draft script took the Breen Office suggestions to heart and the production went ahead without further objections from the censors.

In devising the Ringo Kid character, John Ford referred back to a silent era Western hero he created with Harry Carey, Sr. called Cheyenne Harry.

Stagecoach marked the beginning of a long friendship between John Ford and the Navajo Indians of Monument Valley. He employed scores of local Indians to play Apache warriors in Stagecoach and the various Indian tribes of many of his other Westerns. More than 200 were hired to film the climactic attack on the stagecoach alone. For his commitment to providing them with much needed work (paying them on a union scale no less), the Navajos called Ford "Natani Nez," which means "tall leader."

John Ford was so pleased with the way Yakima Canutt solved the problem of safely shooting the stagecoach's river crossing that he gave Yakima carte blanche in creating all the stunts for Stagecoach.

Yakima Canutt's spectacular stunt of being dragged underneath a team of horses and a stagecoach is rightfully famous. According to the veteran stuntman, here's how it was accomplished. "You have to run the horses fast, so they'll run straight. If they run slow, they move around a lot. When you turn loose to go under the coach, you've got to bring your arms over your chest and stomach. You've got to hold your elbows close to your body, or that front axle will knock them off." After the stunt was completed, Canutt ran to Ford to make sure they got the stunt on film. Ford replied than even if they hadn't, "I'll never shoot that again."

Ford liked to bully actors on the set, and Stagecoach was no exception. At one point he said to Andy Devine, the husky-voiced character actor who plays the coach driver: "You big tub of lard. I don't know why the hell I'm using you in this picture." Undaunted, Devine replied, "Because Ward Bond can't drive six horses." Likewise he attacked Thomas Mitchell, who eventually retorted, "Just remember: I saw Mary of Scotland," effectively humbling the director. Worst of all was Ford's treatment of the Duke. He called him a "big oaf" and a "dumb bastard" and continually criticized his line delivery and manner of walking, even how he washed his face on camera. However, at least part of this was to provoke the actor into giving a stronger performance; Claire Trevor recalls how Ford grabbed Duke by the chin and shook him. "Why are you moving your mouth so much?" he said. "Don't you know you don't act with your mouth in pictures? You act with your eyes." Wayne tolerated the rough treatment and rose to the challenge, reaching a new plateau as an actor. Ford helped cement the impression that Wayne makes in the film by giving him plenty of expressive reaction shots throughout the picture.

Claire Trevor was the highest paid cast member at $15,000. John Wayne got a grand total of $3,700, less than supporting player Tim Holt, who got $5,000.

Stagecoach grossed nearly a million dollars by the end of 1939, earning the largest profits of any Walter Wanger film production to that date.

by Scott McGee and James Steffen
Behind The Camera (10/12)

Behind the Camera (10/12)

The Breen Office, the censorship watchdog in Hollywood, rejected Dudley Nichols' treatment because of the story's sympathetic portrayal of the prostitute Dallas, Doc Boone's constant drunkenness, the Ringo Kid's thirst for revenge and the marshal's involvement in some deaths. Nichols' first draft script took the Breen Office suggestions to heart and the production went ahead without further objections from the censors. In devising the Ringo Kid character, John Ford referred back to a silent era Western hero he created with Harry Carey, Sr. called Cheyenne Harry. Stagecoach marked the beginning of a long friendship between John Ford and the Navajo Indians of Monument Valley. He employed scores of local Indians to play Apache warriors in Stagecoach and the various Indian tribes of many of his other Westerns. More than 200 were hired to film the climactic attack on the stagecoach alone. For his commitment to providing them with much needed work (paying them on a union scale no less), the Navajos called Ford "Natani Nez," which means "tall leader." John Ford was so pleased with the way Yakima Canutt solved the problem of safely shooting the stagecoach's river crossing that he gave Yakima carte blanche in creating all the stunts for Stagecoach. Yakima Canutt's spectacular stunt of being dragged underneath a team of horses and a stagecoach is rightfully famous. According to the veteran stuntman, here's how it was accomplished. "You have to run the horses fast, so they'll run straight. If they run slow, they move around a lot. When you turn loose to go under the coach, you've got to bring your arms over your chest and stomach. You've got to hold your elbows close to your body, or that front axle will knock them off." After the stunt was completed, Canutt ran to Ford to make sure they got the stunt on film. Ford replied than even if they hadn't, "I'll never shoot that again." Ford liked to bully actors on the set, and Stagecoach was no exception. At one point he said to Andy Devine, the husky-voiced character actor who plays the coach driver: "You big tub of lard. I don't know why the hell I'm using you in this picture." Undaunted, Devine replied, "Because Ward Bond can't drive six horses." Likewise he attacked Thomas Mitchell, who eventually retorted, "Just remember: I saw Mary of Scotland," effectively humbling the director. Worst of all was Ford's treatment of the Duke. He called him a "big oaf" and a "dumb bastard" and continually criticized his line delivery and manner of walking, even how he washed his face on camera. However, at least part of this was to provoke the actor into giving a stronger performance; Claire Trevor recalls how Ford grabbed Duke by the chin and shook him. "Why are you moving your mouth so much?" he said. "Don't you know you don't act with your mouth in pictures? You act with your eyes." Wayne tolerated the rough treatment and rose to the challenge, reaching a new plateau as an actor. Ford helped cement the impression that Wayne makes in the film by giving him plenty of expressive reaction shots throughout the picture. Claire Trevor was the highest paid cast member at $15,000. John Wayne got a grand total of $3,700, less than supporting player Tim Holt, who got $5,000. Stagecoach grossed nearly a million dollars by the end of 1939, earning the largest profits of any Walter Wanger film production to that date. by Scott McGee and James Steffen

Stagecoach - Stagecoach


Geronimo and his band of Apaches have severed the telegraph wires, leaving the town of Tonto, New Mexico, cut off from the rest of the world. In the meantime, a stagecoach is heading out of town for Lordsburg, full of individuals from all walks of society: Dallas, a "fallen lady" who is chased out of town by gossip-mongering society ladies; Dr. Josiah Boone, a doctor whose alcoholism has ruined his practice; Samuel Peacock, a timid whisky drummer; Lucy Mallory, a refined but tough-minded woman who will stop at nothing to be reunited with her cavalry officer husband; Henry Gatewood, a banker who uses his aura of respectability to hide embezzled money; and Hatfield, a Southern gambler with a sketchy past who skips town under the pretext of gallantly protecting Mrs. Mallory. Escorted by the stagecoach driver and Sheriff Curly Wilcox, they embark for Lordsburg. Along the way, they meet up with the notorious Ringo Kid, whom the Sheriff arrests. Before they finally reach Lordsburg, various crises, from childbirth to the climactic Apache raid, reveal the underlying character of each stagecoach rider.

Stagecoach (1939) was director John Ford's first Western since Three Bad Men (1926). Although Ford had earned a reputation as a significant director with films such as The Iron Horse (1924), his early sound films were less successful. By the mid-30s, he had recovered lost ground, winning an Oscar for his direction of The Informer (1935) and becoming one of the most respected and highly paid directors in Hollywood. The source material for the screenplay was a short story by Ernest Haycox entitled "Stage to Lordsburg," published in the April 1937 issue of Collier magazine. As Ford acknowledged, the basic outline of the story resembles the classic Guy de Maupassant short story "Boule de suif." Ford bought the rights to the story for $7500 and his longtime collaborator Dudley Nichols wrote the adaptation. Unable to find support for the project at studios like Fox, MGM and Warner Brothers, Ford finally attracted interest from Selznick International Pictures. The head of production there, Merian C. Cooper, was Ford's old friend and drinking buddy. Although David O. Selznick expressed initial interest in the project, he wavered back and forth and attached various conditions to it, including a demand for big name stars such as Gary Cooper or Marlene Dietrich. Finally, independent producer Walter Wanger took up the project, giving it a relatively low budget of approximately $500,000. Ford agreed to work for $50,000, less than his usual director's fee. Dudley Nichols and the film's cast also agreed to accept reduced salaries.

From the moment we are introduced to John Wayne as the Ringo Kid, with the camera tracking in to an imposing close-up, we know we are in the presence of a major star. Although he had shown some early promise as an actor, Wayne's potential was being squandered in a series of forgettable B-Westerns for Republic Studios. Ford invited Wayne, who was already a good friend, on a weekend boat trip to read the screenplay. "I'm having a hell of a time deciding whom to cast as the Ringo Kid," he said. "You know a lot of young actors, Duke. See what you think." Wayne suggested Lloyd Nolan. "Nolan?" Ford asked incredulously. "Jesus Christ, I just wish to hell I could find some young actor in this town who can ride a horse and act." The next day, as the boat pulled into the harbor, Ford declared, "I have made up my mind. I want you to play the Ringo Kid." It was likely that Ford had Wayne in mind for the role from the beginning. However, he had to work hard to convince Wanger to cast the star of mediocre B-Westerns in the part; and Republic Studios, to which Wayne was still under contract, proved to be a difficult negotiator.

Ford liked to bully actors on the set, and Stagecoach was no exception. At one point he said to Andy Devine, the husky-voiced character actor who plays the coach driver: "You big tub of lard. I don't know why the hell I'm using you in this picture." Undaunted, Devine replied, "Because Ward Bond can't drive six horses." Likewise he attacked Thomas Mitchell, who eventually retorted, "Just remember: I saw Mary of Scotland," effectively humbling the director. Worst of all was Ford's treatment of the Duke. He called him a "big oaf" and a "dumb bastard" and continually criticized his line delivery and manner of walking, even how he washed his face on camera. However, at least part of this was to provoke the actor into giving a stronger performance; Claire Trevor recalls how Ford grabbed Duke by the chin and shook him. "Why are you moving your mouth so much?" he said. "Don't you know you don't act with your mouth in pictures? You act with your eyes." Wayne tolerated the rough treatment and rose to the challenge, reaching a new plateau as an actor. Ford helped cement the impression that Wayne makes in the film by giving him plenty of expressive reaction shots throughout the picture.

Legendary stuntman Yakima Canutt also deserves to be noted for his contributions to the picture. One scene, which required the stagecoach full of passengers to be floated across a river, was deemed impossible by technicians to pull off and John Ford considered removing it from the script altogether. Canutt, however, suggested using hollow logs tied to the coach; the air would give them increased buoyancy, offsetting the weight of the fully loaded coach. In addition, an underwater cable was used to help pull the stagecoach. Canutt's plan worked, and the scene was retained for the film. But it is for Canutt's magnificent (and dangerous) stunts on this film that he is remembered today. In the most striking of these, he plays an Indian who rides alongside the coach at full speed - approximately forty miles per hour - and transfers from the horse he is riding to a horse on the team. After he is shot by Wayne, he falls between the two lead horses and hangs from the rig before letting go and allowing the horses and the stagecoach to pass over him. The stunt, which was broken up into two segments for the shoot, required precise timing and movements since any miscalculations or slips on Canutt's part could have been deadly. Steven Spielberg made an homage to this scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) when Indiana Jones slides down the hood of a moving car, passes underneath it and is dragged behind.

Although it was not the first film to use Monument Valley as a location, Stagecoach did much to popularize it. Part of the vast Navajo reservation near the Utah/Arizona border, the desolate landscape with its striking sandstone buttes and mesas, lends a mythic quality to the film, dwarfing the vulnerable stagecoach party in the presence of eternal and impersonal Nature. It came to embody the very idea of the West for John Ford, who used Monument Valley in many of his later films. At the time the film was made, the region was still sparsely populated and not readily accessible, making work difficult for the film crew. Yet as prominent as it appears in the film, the location was in fact used surprisingly little. The Apache raid was shot on the Muroc dry lake bed near Victorville, California, and the river crossing took place on the Kern River near Kernville, California, to name only a couple of other locations that were used. The interior scenes of the coach were all shot in a studio, and the town sequences were shot on Hollywood backlots. Moreover, to focus solely on the admittedly stunning outdoor landscapes is to lose sight of the film's stylistic richness as a whole: the beautifully lit nighttime scene in Lordsburg, with graceful tracking shots following Dallas and the Ringo Kid on their stroll through the town; and the taut editing of the conversations inside the stagecoach, with their perfectly timed reaction shots. Orson Welles later claimed to have watched the film dozens of times before directing his own masterpiece, Citizen Kane (1941).

Stagecoach received seven Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Score, Best Art Direction and Best Supporting Actor (Thomas Mitchell). Even in the face of the Gone With the Wind juggernaut at that year's Academy Awards ceremony, it won two awards - for Thomas Mitchell's performance as Dr. Josiah Boone and for the score, a deft combination of folk tunes, including the hymn "Shall We Gather at the River," which seems to have been used in every subsequent Ford Western and is darkly parodied in Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch (1969).

Director: John Ford
Producer: Walter Wanger
Screenplay: Dudley Nichols, based on Stage to Lordsburg by Ernest Haycox
Cinematography: Bert Glennon
Editing: Dorothy Spencer and Walter Reynolds
Music: Louis Gruenberg, Richard Hageman, W. Franke Harling, John Leipold, Leo Shuken
Art Direction: Alexander Toluboff
Principal cast: John Wayne (The Ringo Kid), Claire Trevor (Dallas), John Carradine (Hatfield), Thomas Mitchell (Dr. Josiah Boone), Andy Devine (Buck Rickabaugh), Donald Meek (Mr. Samuel Peakock), Louise Platt (Lucy Mallory), George Bancroft (Sheriff Curly Wilcox), Berton Churchill (Henry Gatewood), Tim Holt (Lt. Blanchard).
BW-97m.

by James Steffen

Stagecoach - Stagecoach

Geronimo and his band of Apaches have severed the telegraph wires, leaving the town of Tonto, New Mexico, cut off from the rest of the world. In the meantime, a stagecoach is heading out of town for Lordsburg, full of individuals from all walks of society: Dallas, a "fallen lady" who is chased out of town by gossip-mongering society ladies; Dr. Josiah Boone, a doctor whose alcoholism has ruined his practice; Samuel Peacock, a timid whisky drummer; Lucy Mallory, a refined but tough-minded woman who will stop at nothing to be reunited with her cavalry officer husband; Henry Gatewood, a banker who uses his aura of respectability to hide embezzled money; and Hatfield, a Southern gambler with a sketchy past who skips town under the pretext of gallantly protecting Mrs. Mallory. Escorted by the stagecoach driver and Sheriff Curly Wilcox, they embark for Lordsburg. Along the way, they meet up with the notorious Ringo Kid, whom the Sheriff arrests. Before they finally reach Lordsburg, various crises, from childbirth to the climactic Apache raid, reveal the underlying character of each stagecoach rider. Stagecoach (1939) was director John Ford's first Western since Three Bad Men (1926). Although Ford had earned a reputation as a significant director with films such as The Iron Horse (1924), his early sound films were less successful. By the mid-30s, he had recovered lost ground, winning an Oscar for his direction of The Informer (1935) and becoming one of the most respected and highly paid directors in Hollywood. The source material for the screenplay was a short story by Ernest Haycox entitled "Stage to Lordsburg," published in the April 1937 issue of Collier magazine. As Ford acknowledged, the basic outline of the story resembles the classic Guy de Maupassant short story "Boule de suif." Ford bought the rights to the story for $7500 and his longtime collaborator Dudley Nichols wrote the adaptation. Unable to find support for the project at studios like Fox, MGM and Warner Brothers, Ford finally attracted interest from Selznick International Pictures. The head of production there, Merian C. Cooper, was Ford's old friend and drinking buddy. Although David O. Selznick expressed initial interest in the project, he wavered back and forth and attached various conditions to it, including a demand for big name stars such as Gary Cooper or Marlene Dietrich. Finally, independent producer Walter Wanger took up the project, giving it a relatively low budget of approximately $500,000. Ford agreed to work for $50,000, less than his usual director's fee. Dudley Nichols and the film's cast also agreed to accept reduced salaries. From the moment we are introduced to John Wayne as the Ringo Kid, with the camera tracking in to an imposing close-up, we know we are in the presence of a major star. Although he had shown some early promise as an actor, Wayne's potential was being squandered in a series of forgettable B-Westerns for Republic Studios. Ford invited Wayne, who was already a good friend, on a weekend boat trip to read the screenplay. "I'm having a hell of a time deciding whom to cast as the Ringo Kid," he said. "You know a lot of young actors, Duke. See what you think." Wayne suggested Lloyd Nolan. "Nolan?" Ford asked incredulously. "Jesus Christ, I just wish to hell I could find some young actor in this town who can ride a horse and act." The next day, as the boat pulled into the harbor, Ford declared, "I have made up my mind. I want you to play the Ringo Kid." It was likely that Ford had Wayne in mind for the role from the beginning. However, he had to work hard to convince Wanger to cast the star of mediocre B-Westerns in the part; and Republic Studios, to which Wayne was still under contract, proved to be a difficult negotiator. Ford liked to bully actors on the set, and Stagecoach was no exception. At one point he said to Andy Devine, the husky-voiced character actor who plays the coach driver: "You big tub of lard. I don't know why the hell I'm using you in this picture." Undaunted, Devine replied, "Because Ward Bond can't drive six horses." Likewise he attacked Thomas Mitchell, who eventually retorted, "Just remember: I saw Mary of Scotland," effectively humbling the director. Worst of all was Ford's treatment of the Duke. He called him a "big oaf" and a "dumb bastard" and continually criticized his line delivery and manner of walking, even how he washed his face on camera. However, at least part of this was to provoke the actor into giving a stronger performance; Claire Trevor recalls how Ford grabbed Duke by the chin and shook him. "Why are you moving your mouth so much?" he said. "Don't you know you don't act with your mouth in pictures? You act with your eyes." Wayne tolerated the rough treatment and rose to the challenge, reaching a new plateau as an actor. Ford helped cement the impression that Wayne makes in the film by giving him plenty of expressive reaction shots throughout the picture. Legendary stuntman Yakima Canutt also deserves to be noted for his contributions to the picture. One scene, which required the stagecoach full of passengers to be floated across a river, was deemed impossible by technicians to pull off and John Ford considered removing it from the script altogether. Canutt, however, suggested using hollow logs tied to the coach; the air would give them increased buoyancy, offsetting the weight of the fully loaded coach. In addition, an underwater cable was used to help pull the stagecoach. Canutt's plan worked, and the scene was retained for the film. But it is for Canutt's magnificent (and dangerous) stunts on this film that he is remembered today. In the most striking of these, he plays an Indian who rides alongside the coach at full speed - approximately forty miles per hour - and transfers from the horse he is riding to a horse on the team. After he is shot by Wayne, he falls between the two lead horses and hangs from the rig before letting go and allowing the horses and the stagecoach to pass over him. The stunt, which was broken up into two segments for the shoot, required precise timing and movements since any miscalculations or slips on Canutt's part could have been deadly. Steven Spielberg made an homage to this scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) when Indiana Jones slides down the hood of a moving car, passes underneath it and is dragged behind. Although it was not the first film to use Monument Valley as a location, Stagecoach did much to popularize it. Part of the vast Navajo reservation near the Utah/Arizona border, the desolate landscape with its striking sandstone buttes and mesas, lends a mythic quality to the film, dwarfing the vulnerable stagecoach party in the presence of eternal and impersonal Nature. It came to embody the very idea of the West for John Ford, who used Monument Valley in many of his later films. At the time the film was made, the region was still sparsely populated and not readily accessible, making work difficult for the film crew. Yet as prominent as it appears in the film, the location was in fact used surprisingly little. The Apache raid was shot on the Muroc dry lake bed near Victorville, California, and the river crossing took place on the Kern River near Kernville, California, to name only a couple of other locations that were used. The interior scenes of the coach were all shot in a studio, and the town sequences were shot on Hollywood backlots. Moreover, to focus solely on the admittedly stunning outdoor landscapes is to lose sight of the film's stylistic richness as a whole: the beautifully lit nighttime scene in Lordsburg, with graceful tracking shots following Dallas and the Ringo Kid on their stroll through the town; and the taut editing of the conversations inside the stagecoach, with their perfectly timed reaction shots. Orson Welles later claimed to have watched the film dozens of times before directing his own masterpiece, Citizen Kane (1941). Stagecoach received seven Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Score, Best Art Direction and Best Supporting Actor (Thomas Mitchell). Even in the face of the Gone With the Wind juggernaut at that year's Academy Awards ceremony, it won two awards - for Thomas Mitchell's performance as Dr. Josiah Boone and for the score, a deft combination of folk tunes, including the hymn "Shall We Gather at the River," which seems to have been used in every subsequent Ford Western and is darkly parodied in Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch (1969). Director: John Ford Producer: Walter Wanger Screenplay: Dudley Nichols, based on Stage to Lordsburg by Ernest Haycox Cinematography: Bert Glennon Editing: Dorothy Spencer and Walter Reynolds Music: Louis Gruenberg, Richard Hageman, W. Franke Harling, John Leipold, Leo Shuken Art Direction: Alexander Toluboff Principal cast: John Wayne (The Ringo Kid), Claire Trevor (Dallas), John Carradine (Hatfield), Thomas Mitchell (Dr. Josiah Boone), Andy Devine (Buck Rickabaugh), Donald Meek (Mr. Samuel Peakock), Louise Platt (Lucy Mallory), George Bancroft (Sheriff Curly Wilcox), Berton Churchill (Henry Gatewood), Tim Holt (Lt. Blanchard). BW-97m. by James Steffen

Stagecoach (Criterion Collection) - John Ford's 1939 Masterpiece Stagecoach on DVD


It's one thing when all of the elements of a film "click" to produce a superior picture. It's another when a film flies in the face of commercial trends, elevating a C-grade genre to "A" film status and creating a major star from a career-challenged has-been. John Ford's 1939 Stagecoach does all that and more. This B&W classic has provided lessons in the grammar of good filmmaking for generations. Orson Welles saw it and decided that John Ford was the best director in Hollywood. Critics and film structuralists have taken Ford's drama apart and come up with conflicting theories. Critic Richard Corliss studied the script's stock characters and "miracle" plotting and, like the engineer who concluded that bees can't fly because they don't follow the rules, adjudged Stagecoach "a box of faded Hollywood conventions". In interviews Ford often contradicts himself. He's famously quoted identifying himself at a famous Director's Guild meeting by saying, "My name's John Ford. I make westerns". In a later interview (included on this disc) he distances himself from the genre and says he has no particular interest in it.

Stagecoach rolls nine character clich&e;s and a corny selection of silent western situations into a 'hazardous journey' plot yet somehow comes up with a riveting drama that grabs our emotions. An overland stage to Lordsburg is packed with travelers nervous about the Apache renegade Geronimo, who has broken free of the reservation. Whiskey salesman Samuel Peacock (Donald Meek) is concerned about his family back in St Louis. Pregnant army wife Lucy Mallory (Louise Platt) is anxious to get to her husband, an officer serving in the cavalry. Shifty gentleman gambler Hatfield (John Carradine) goes along to protect her. Doc Boone (Thomas Mitchell) and prostitute Dallas (Claire Trevor) are being ushered out of town by an unpaid landlord and a pack of church ladies. Slipping aboard at the last minute is banker Henry Gatewood (Berton Churchill). The coach driver is Buck (Andy Devine) and riding shotgun is Marshal Curly Wilcox (George Bancroft). Curly has come along to arrest prison escapee The Ringo Kid (John Wayne), who wants revenge on the three men who killed his father and brother.

Ford and scenarist Dudley Nichols make Stagecoach a Grand Hotel on wheels, but with far better storytelling skills. Introduced as stereotypes, the passengers soon take on back stories, or hints of back stories. The milquetoast whiskey drummer earns our approval as a tenderhearted protector of new mothers and babies. The cowardly coach driver is more than sympathetic to the plight of the outlaw hero. The priggish Eastern woman demonstrates that she's a good soul beneath her social constraints. Ford includes a clownish alcoholic Irish doctor for a few easy laughs, a choice redeemed by Thomas Mitchell's excellent acting.

Oddly, the film's most hackneyed plot turns are its strongest scenes. Doc Boone sobers up to deliver a baby, regaining his self-esteem. The last-second rescue by the cavalry ties in with a "save-the-last-bullet" moment that by all rights should be an intolerable bit of cheap manipulation. It works because Ford fully embraces the gallantry of the shooter, a Southern aristocrat who has chosen to lose himself in the wild west over some unspoken disgrace back home - one that apparently involves Mrs. Mallory. Hinted at with only a few glances and allusions, this hidden drama is a match for the Ethan Edwards - Martha relationship in The Searchers. It's Carradine's greatest role and some of John Ford's most sophisticated storytelling. Critic Richard Corliss decided that the director added little to Dudley Nichols' script, a statement belied by Ford's delicate and nuanced handling of every character on screen.

I don't think that Stagecoach is the "psychological" western that Peter Bogdanovich describes. That descriptor wouldn't really apply until the 1950s when post-nuclear angst seeped into performances and themes, turning western heroes into bundles of complexes, even if only superficially expressed. But Stagecoach is decidedly adult in its outlook, especially considering the fairly infantile roost occupied by the average western programmer of the 1930s. Top-billed Claire Trevor's Dallas is clearly a low-grade prostitute -- she doesn't use a real name, but is known by where she can be found. The screenplay goes in for several 'rehabilitations of the soul', and the essentially innocent Dallas is a prime candidate for regeneration. She's even compared directly to the Virgin Mary. Her hopes for a better life are rekindled by another 'innocent' loser. Fugitive murderer The Ringo Kid has been locked up since he was Seventeen, yet is so unspoiled that he doesn't recognize Dallas for what she is.

Excluding a few noble outlaws, Hollywood's big westerns always starred true-blue good guys and virginal heroines. Stagecoach breaks the mold by proposing a whore and an outlaw to represent New Hope in the New Land. Perhaps this is part of Ford's (then) liberal political slant, the same humanist outlook that led him to embrace John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Ford gleefully identifies the hypocrite banker Henry Gatewood as society's biggest enemy. Viewers always roar with approval when Gatewood is hauled off to the calaboose, but Ford is doing much more than just playing to his Depression-era audience. Stagecoach made the western genre more relevant, placing its action thrills in a more compelling dramatic context. John Wayne really earns his newfound stardom, holding his own against a cast of scene-stealers. We know we're dealing with a new cinema icon from his very first shot.

Stagecoach is as smartly constructed as a Swiss watch, and its cutting patterns have often been analyzed shot-by-shot by academic film theorists. I think I dropped all notion of continuing in grad school critical studies after slogging through a treatise purporting to explain Ford's big chase scene in semiological terms. Not only was the paper a deadly read, it assigned ludicrous intellectual explanations for directing choices that Ford would clearly make on an instinctual basis. It should also be obvious that Ford's stunt expert Yakima Canutt had a big influence on the way the chase was assembled.

The chase sequence is often criticized for breaking the 180° line. The stagecoach moves left-to-right in one shot and in the next is suddenly moving right-to-left. This kind of faux analysis applies a Rule without understanding the reason the Rule was invented. Really glaring screen direction errors are rare in sound films, but crop up more often in silents (where, it is possible, they were once separated by other shots or inter-titles). I tend to find them in films by G. W. Pabst. Louise Brooks will talk to someone off screen, and the cut will reveal her listener facing in the same direction. To us it looks like the camera has cut to a third person that happens to be looking off-screen at the unseen listener.

The 180° line rule is important only when its violation risks viewer confusion. Two people talking in a room suggest an invisible eye line between them, and crossing it might confuse the audience. But a stagecoach racing across a featureless plain doesn't have a "line", only a simple Vector of motion, a big arrow representing the coach. We know that the Indians are all following the coach. When we cut to one of them galloping in the opposite screen direction, we don't for a moment think that he's another Indian riding the other way. We also don't imagine that a second stagecoach has suddenly appeared. When Ford introduces the cavalry riding the other way to intercept the Indians, he cuts very quickly to wide angle from a fixed position. Only then do we see the full scene with the cavalry, coach and Indians all in relation to each other.

Yet Stagecoach was once faulted for flawed film grammar. The closest Ford ever came to formalizing a visual choice is when he indicated that he chose his horizon shots based on paintings he admired.

Criterion's DVD and Blu-ray of Stagecoach is the best-looking home video presentation I've seen of this title. Scores of classic films released by United Artists in the 30s and 40s reverted to their copyright owners. Scattered to various fates, their original printing elements were sometimes poorly preserved, lost or simply thrown away. Criterion confirms that Stagecoach's original negative has gone missing for decades. The majority of the film is sharp and well defined, albeit with frequent light scratches, especially at reel ends. The first reel or so of the picture is taken from a source (a print?) without good contrast, and so fares a little worse. But Criterion's cleanup has done wonders with dirt and frame damage. In Blu-ray, many of Bert Glennon's expressive deep focus shots are restored to their original beauty.

Criterion's Curtis Tsui has overseen an impressive selection of extras. Scholar Jim Kitses contributes an informative commentary track. Peter Bogdanovich offers his thoughts in one interview, while a rare 1968 BBC interview shows Ford to be a crochety, uncooperative subject who amuses himself by insulting his interviewer Philip Jenkinson. Ford disingenuously claims to have discovered John Wayne for Stagecoach instead of ten years before, when he handed him off to Raoul Walsh for The Big Trail. Ford unrepentantly dismisses the entire Civil Rights Movement as a case of outside agitators making things hard for "the negroes". He repeatedly calls Englishman Jenkinson to account for England's oppression of Ireland and slams the interviewer's Manchester background. Ford then praises his cultured English friends in the film industry. This key interview appears to be the source for a number of "Fordisms" oft-quoted in books by critics like Janey Place.

Ford grandson Dan Ford narrates an interesting selection of family home movies, newly restored. Buzz Bissinger hosts an interesting piece about Monument Valley trader Harry Goulding's role in bringing Ford to his favorite desert location. Stunt arranger Vic Armstrong provides a nice tribute to Stagecoach's legendary stunt director Yakima Canutt. A rare original trailer accompanies a 1949 radio version of the story starring John Wayne, Claire Trevor and John Ford. The insert booklet contains a smart essay by Scottish arts professor David Cairns (of Shadowplay) and reprints the entire source story by Ernest Haycox.

Lastly, a Video Essay by Tag Gallagher conducts a thoughtful visual analysis of sequences in Stagecoach. Gallagher explains Ford's precise camera angles in terms of character nuances. Random glances and reactions are actually a careful pattern of shot choices by which Ford encourages us to sympathize with his characters, without identifying with them. Gallagher's demonstration of the effect of subjective and objective angles on our perceptions is both convincing and meaningful: Ford's "intuitive" direction seems to be anything but.

Criterion has released Stagecoach in both Blu-ray and standard DVD. The DVD edition places the extras on a second disc.

Reference: Talking Pictures by Richard Corliss, Overlook Press 1974


For more information about Stagecoach, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Stagecoach, go to TCM Shopping.

by Glenn Erickson

Stagecoach (Criterion Collection) - John Ford's 1939 Masterpiece Stagecoach on DVD

It's one thing when all of the elements of a film "click" to produce a superior picture. It's another when a film flies in the face of commercial trends, elevating a C-grade genre to "A" film status and creating a major star from a career-challenged has-been. John Ford's 1939 Stagecoach does all that and more. This B&W classic has provided lessons in the grammar of good filmmaking for generations. Orson Welles saw it and decided that John Ford was the best director in Hollywood. Critics and film structuralists have taken Ford's drama apart and come up with conflicting theories. Critic Richard Corliss studied the script's stock characters and "miracle" plotting and, like the engineer who concluded that bees can't fly because they don't follow the rules, adjudged Stagecoach "a box of faded Hollywood conventions". In interviews Ford often contradicts himself. He's famously quoted identifying himself at a famous Director's Guild meeting by saying, "My name's John Ford. I make westerns". In a later interview (included on this disc) he distances himself from the genre and says he has no particular interest in it. Stagecoach rolls nine character clich&e;s and a corny selection of silent western situations into a 'hazardous journey' plot yet somehow comes up with a riveting drama that grabs our emotions. An overland stage to Lordsburg is packed with travelers nervous about the Apache renegade Geronimo, who has broken free of the reservation. Whiskey salesman Samuel Peacock (Donald Meek) is concerned about his family back in St Louis. Pregnant army wife Lucy Mallory (Louise Platt) is anxious to get to her husband, an officer serving in the cavalry. Shifty gentleman gambler Hatfield (John Carradine) goes along to protect her. Doc Boone (Thomas Mitchell) and prostitute Dallas (Claire Trevor) are being ushered out of town by an unpaid landlord and a pack of church ladies. Slipping aboard at the last minute is banker Henry Gatewood (Berton Churchill). The coach driver is Buck (Andy Devine) and riding shotgun is Marshal Curly Wilcox (George Bancroft). Curly has come along to arrest prison escapee The Ringo Kid (John Wayne), who wants revenge on the three men who killed his father and brother. Ford and scenarist Dudley Nichols make Stagecoach a Grand Hotel on wheels, but with far better storytelling skills. Introduced as stereotypes, the passengers soon take on back stories, or hints of back stories. The milquetoast whiskey drummer earns our approval as a tenderhearted protector of new mothers and babies. The cowardly coach driver is more than sympathetic to the plight of the outlaw hero. The priggish Eastern woman demonstrates that she's a good soul beneath her social constraints. Ford includes a clownish alcoholic Irish doctor for a few easy laughs, a choice redeemed by Thomas Mitchell's excellent acting. Oddly, the film's most hackneyed plot turns are its strongest scenes. Doc Boone sobers up to deliver a baby, regaining his self-esteem. The last-second rescue by the cavalry ties in with a "save-the-last-bullet" moment that by all rights should be an intolerable bit of cheap manipulation. It works because Ford fully embraces the gallantry of the shooter, a Southern aristocrat who has chosen to lose himself in the wild west over some unspoken disgrace back home - one that apparently involves Mrs. Mallory. Hinted at with only a few glances and allusions, this hidden drama is a match for the Ethan Edwards - Martha relationship in The Searchers. It's Carradine's greatest role and some of John Ford's most sophisticated storytelling. Critic Richard Corliss decided that the director added little to Dudley Nichols' script, a statement belied by Ford's delicate and nuanced handling of every character on screen. I don't think that Stagecoach is the "psychological" western that Peter Bogdanovich describes. That descriptor wouldn't really apply until the 1950s when post-nuclear angst seeped into performances and themes, turning western heroes into bundles of complexes, even if only superficially expressed. But Stagecoach is decidedly adult in its outlook, especially considering the fairly infantile roost occupied by the average western programmer of the 1930s. Top-billed Claire Trevor's Dallas is clearly a low-grade prostitute -- she doesn't use a real name, but is known by where she can be found. The screenplay goes in for several 'rehabilitations of the soul', and the essentially innocent Dallas is a prime candidate for regeneration. She's even compared directly to the Virgin Mary. Her hopes for a better life are rekindled by another 'innocent' loser. Fugitive murderer The Ringo Kid has been locked up since he was Seventeen, yet is so unspoiled that he doesn't recognize Dallas for what she is. Excluding a few noble outlaws, Hollywood's big westerns always starred true-blue good guys and virginal heroines. Stagecoach breaks the mold by proposing a whore and an outlaw to represent New Hope in the New Land. Perhaps this is part of Ford's (then) liberal political slant, the same humanist outlook that led him to embrace John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Ford gleefully identifies the hypocrite banker Henry Gatewood as society's biggest enemy. Viewers always roar with approval when Gatewood is hauled off to the calaboose, but Ford is doing much more than just playing to his Depression-era audience. Stagecoach made the western genre more relevant, placing its action thrills in a more compelling dramatic context. John Wayne really earns his newfound stardom, holding his own against a cast of scene-stealers. We know we're dealing with a new cinema icon from his very first shot. Stagecoach is as smartly constructed as a Swiss watch, and its cutting patterns have often been analyzed shot-by-shot by academic film theorists. I think I dropped all notion of continuing in grad school critical studies after slogging through a treatise purporting to explain Ford's big chase scene in semiological terms. Not only was the paper a deadly read, it assigned ludicrous intellectual explanations for directing choices that Ford would clearly make on an instinctual basis. It should also be obvious that Ford's stunt expert Yakima Canutt had a big influence on the way the chase was assembled. The chase sequence is often criticized for breaking the 180° line. The stagecoach moves left-to-right in one shot and in the next is suddenly moving right-to-left. This kind of faux analysis applies a Rule without understanding the reason the Rule was invented. Really glaring screen direction errors are rare in sound films, but crop up more often in silents (where, it is possible, they were once separated by other shots or inter-titles). I tend to find them in films by G. W. Pabst. Louise Brooks will talk to someone off screen, and the cut will reveal her listener facing in the same direction. To us it looks like the camera has cut to a third person that happens to be looking off-screen at the unseen listener. The 180° line rule is important only when its violation risks viewer confusion. Two people talking in a room suggest an invisible eye line between them, and crossing it might confuse the audience. But a stagecoach racing across a featureless plain doesn't have a "line", only a simple Vector of motion, a big arrow representing the coach. We know that the Indians are all following the coach. When we cut to one of them galloping in the opposite screen direction, we don't for a moment think that he's another Indian riding the other way. We also don't imagine that a second stagecoach has suddenly appeared. When Ford introduces the cavalry riding the other way to intercept the Indians, he cuts very quickly to wide angle from a fixed position. Only then do we see the full scene with the cavalry, coach and Indians all in relation to each other. Yet Stagecoach was once faulted for flawed film grammar. The closest Ford ever came to formalizing a visual choice is when he indicated that he chose his horizon shots based on paintings he admired. Criterion's DVD and Blu-ray of Stagecoach is the best-looking home video presentation I've seen of this title. Scores of classic films released by United Artists in the 30s and 40s reverted to their copyright owners. Scattered to various fates, their original printing elements were sometimes poorly preserved, lost or simply thrown away. Criterion confirms that Stagecoach's original negative has gone missing for decades. The majority of the film is sharp and well defined, albeit with frequent light scratches, especially at reel ends. The first reel or so of the picture is taken from a source (a print?) without good contrast, and so fares a little worse. But Criterion's cleanup has done wonders with dirt and frame damage. In Blu-ray, many of Bert Glennon's expressive deep focus shots are restored to their original beauty. Criterion's Curtis Tsui has overseen an impressive selection of extras. Scholar Jim Kitses contributes an informative commentary track. Peter Bogdanovich offers his thoughts in one interview, while a rare 1968 BBC interview shows Ford to be a crochety, uncooperative subject who amuses himself by insulting his interviewer Philip Jenkinson. Ford disingenuously claims to have discovered John Wayne for Stagecoach instead of ten years before, when he handed him off to Raoul Walsh for The Big Trail. Ford unrepentantly dismisses the entire Civil Rights Movement as a case of outside agitators making things hard for "the negroes". He repeatedly calls Englishman Jenkinson to account for England's oppression of Ireland and slams the interviewer's Manchester background. Ford then praises his cultured English friends in the film industry. This key interview appears to be the source for a number of "Fordisms" oft-quoted in books by critics like Janey Place. Ford grandson Dan Ford narrates an interesting selection of family home movies, newly restored. Buzz Bissinger hosts an interesting piece about Monument Valley trader Harry Goulding's role in bringing Ford to his favorite desert location. Stunt arranger Vic Armstrong provides a nice tribute to Stagecoach's legendary stunt director Yakima Canutt. A rare original trailer accompanies a 1949 radio version of the story starring John Wayne, Claire Trevor and John Ford. The insert booklet contains a smart essay by Scottish arts professor David Cairns (of Shadowplay) and reprints the entire source story by Ernest Haycox. Lastly, a Video Essay by Tag Gallagher conducts a thoughtful visual analysis of sequences in Stagecoach. Gallagher explains Ford's precise camera angles in terms of character nuances. Random glances and reactions are actually a careful pattern of shot choices by which Ford encourages us to sympathize with his characters, without identifying with them. Gallagher's demonstration of the effect of subjective and objective angles on our perceptions is both convincing and meaningful: Ford's "intuitive" direction seems to be anything but. Criterion has released Stagecoach in both Blu-ray and standard DVD. The DVD edition places the extras on a second disc. Reference: Talking Pictures by Richard Corliss, Overlook Press 1974 For more information about Stagecoach, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Stagecoach, go to TCM Shopping. by Glenn Erickson

John Ford's Stagecoach (Special Edition) on DVD


When you compare 1939's Stagecoach with later westerns by John Ford, you can make some negative comparisons: it's not as lyrical as My Darling Clementine; its characters aren't as deep as those in The Searchers; it's not as majestic as She Wore a Yellow Ribbon; its concept of the Apaches as faceless savages is simplistic in comparison with later portrayals of Native Americans. You might be able to criticize Stagecoach for what it's not. But it's hard to criticize much about what it is.

What it is is the archetypal movie western, the most iconic of them all. I doubt there's anything in it that wasn't already in a movie already: rugged locations, predatory Apaches, an arduous stagecoach trip, a fugitive who turns out to be a good guy, a dissipated doctor, a hooker with a heart of gold, a crooked banker, a tinhorn gambler. But what Ford and screenwriter Dudley Nichols do with these stock ingredients is as involving and thrilling as anyone else ever has.

As is often the case in a Ford movie, community is important. Stagecoach fills its titular vehicle with a microcosm of frontier society: a cavalry officer's wife (Louise Platt), a dissipated and usually drunken doctor (Thomas Mitchell), the jocular driver (Andy Devine), a lawman riding shotgun (George Bancroft), a businessman (Donald Meek), a banker (Berton Churchill), a prostitute (Claire Trevor), a rakish Southern gambler (John Carradine) and, after flagging the coach down in the desert, a fugitive (John Wayne) who's escaped from prison in order to avenge the murders of his father and brother. Word is that Geromino and the Apaches are on the warpath, and the story seamlessly intersperses action along the coach's route with drama inside the coach. The events inside and out are equally important.

Outside, there's a slow build to a violent crossing of paths with Apaches. A squad of cavalry soldiers accompanies the stagecoach until its first stop, where another squad is supposed to take over. But this second squad has moved on to the next stop. Only when the coach gets there on its own (the passengers vote to continue), they learn the squad has been dispatched to hunt for Geronimo. That night, the Mexican station man's Apache wife leaves with the coach's replacement horses.

Inside, the diverse characters uneasily interact, as the story shows us (and them) that you can't judge anyone by appearance and by the status society has granted them. To put it simply, the scoundrels save the day. When the very proper cavalry officer's wife, a friend of the blue-noses who ran both Dallas (the prostitute) and Doc Boone out of the stagecoach's departure city, faints and turns out to be pregnant (and in labor), they're the ones who help her get through the birth. When the run-in with the Apaches finally comes, in a chase through Monument Valley in which Ford's cuts don't always match, but the action and stunts are still amazing, it's the sharpshooting and quick thinking of The Ringo Kid (Wayne) that saves the day. Not only does the cavalry officer's wife have to rethink her assessment of Dallas (who she's frequently dissed early in the ride), but the banker who flexes his power at every opportunity is an embezzler.

But rather than a mere moral victory of the scoundrels, Stagecoach is a coming-together of its little community. Those who come to the aid of others and those who recognize the goodness of others (including the officer's wife) are redeemed. The Ringo Kid and Dallas fall for each other, he stands by her even after he finds out more about her and the lawman shows there's an alternative path to justice than just doing his job and taking Ringo in. Stagecoach is one of Ford's most optimistic westerns, and it's remarkably free of the corniness that can creep into the director's work. The humor here, deeply stitched into the story, works extremely well, and comes mainly from squeaky-voiced Devine, who can never get a word in edgewise when a decision is being made, and Meek, whose character is a liquor salesman, despite everyone always thinking he's a clergyman (perhaps as an inside joke, the following year's W.C. Fields-Mae West western comedy My Little Chickadee also includes a gag in which a Meek character is assumed to be a clergyman).

The new two-disc Stagecoach special edition DVD adds in worthy extras (the movie's previous single disc had none). Among them is the recent PBS-aired John Ford/John Wayne: The Filmmaker & the Legend, which gives a good overview of the ups and downs of the pair's lengthy relationship onscreen and offscreen. The half-hour featurette Stagecoach: A Story of Redemption looks at that relationship within the context of Stagecoach, and how Ford, who'd been grooming Wayne for an acting career, stopped being friendly to him after he starred in Raoul Walsh's early western talkie The Big Trail and rescued the actor from eight years of Grade-C westerns (after Trail was a big flop). Ford gave him one of the all-time great movie close-ups as an entrance and Wayne responded with a relaxed, confident and enormously likeable performance as the sort of flawed hero who would become the hallmark of the western. A great partnership was born, and the western was also rescued from black-hat/white-hat formulas.

The featurette also notes how, in adapting Ernest Haycox's short story, Ford and Nichols worked in elements from Guy de Maupassant's Boule de Suif, the same story later adapted in Val Lewton's Madamoiselle Fifi. The new Stagecoach disc, available solo or in the John Wayne-John Ford Film Collection, also has an audio commentary by Ford biographer Scott Eyman and a 1946 radio adaptation of the movie starring Trevor and Randolph Scott. Although the last is divided into chapters from which you can switch ahead or back, you can't pause it or rewind back just a few seconds if you miss something.

For more information about Stagecoach, visit Warner Video. To order Stagecoach, go to TCM Shopping.

by Paul Sherman

John Ford's Stagecoach (Special Edition) on DVD

When you compare 1939's Stagecoach with later westerns by John Ford, you can make some negative comparisons: it's not as lyrical as My Darling Clementine; its characters aren't as deep as those in The Searchers; it's not as majestic as She Wore a Yellow Ribbon; its concept of the Apaches as faceless savages is simplistic in comparison with later portrayals of Native Americans. You might be able to criticize Stagecoach for what it's not. But it's hard to criticize much about what it is. What it is is the archetypal movie western, the most iconic of them all. I doubt there's anything in it that wasn't already in a movie already: rugged locations, predatory Apaches, an arduous stagecoach trip, a fugitive who turns out to be a good guy, a dissipated doctor, a hooker with a heart of gold, a crooked banker, a tinhorn gambler. But what Ford and screenwriter Dudley Nichols do with these stock ingredients is as involving and thrilling as anyone else ever has. As is often the case in a Ford movie, community is important. Stagecoach fills its titular vehicle with a microcosm of frontier society: a cavalry officer's wife (Louise Platt), a dissipated and usually drunken doctor (Thomas Mitchell), the jocular driver (Andy Devine), a lawman riding shotgun (George Bancroft), a businessman (Donald Meek), a banker (Berton Churchill), a prostitute (Claire Trevor), a rakish Southern gambler (John Carradine) and, after flagging the coach down in the desert, a fugitive (John Wayne) who's escaped from prison in order to avenge the murders of his father and brother. Word is that Geromino and the Apaches are on the warpath, and the story seamlessly intersperses action along the coach's route with drama inside the coach. The events inside and out are equally important. Outside, there's a slow build to a violent crossing of paths with Apaches. A squad of cavalry soldiers accompanies the stagecoach until its first stop, where another squad is supposed to take over. But this second squad has moved on to the next stop. Only when the coach gets there on its own (the passengers vote to continue), they learn the squad has been dispatched to hunt for Geronimo. That night, the Mexican station man's Apache wife leaves with the coach's replacement horses. Inside, the diverse characters uneasily interact, as the story shows us (and them) that you can't judge anyone by appearance and by the status society has granted them. To put it simply, the scoundrels save the day. When the very proper cavalry officer's wife, a friend of the blue-noses who ran both Dallas (the prostitute) and Doc Boone out of the stagecoach's departure city, faints and turns out to be pregnant (and in labor), they're the ones who help her get through the birth. When the run-in with the Apaches finally comes, in a chase through Monument Valley in which Ford's cuts don't always match, but the action and stunts are still amazing, it's the sharpshooting and quick thinking of The Ringo Kid (Wayne) that saves the day. Not only does the cavalry officer's wife have to rethink her assessment of Dallas (who she's frequently dissed early in the ride), but the banker who flexes his power at every opportunity is an embezzler. But rather than a mere moral victory of the scoundrels, Stagecoach is a coming-together of its little community. Those who come to the aid of others and those who recognize the goodness of others (including the officer's wife) are redeemed. The Ringo Kid and Dallas fall for each other, he stands by her even after he finds out more about her and the lawman shows there's an alternative path to justice than just doing his job and taking Ringo in. Stagecoach is one of Ford's most optimistic westerns, and it's remarkably free of the corniness that can creep into the director's work. The humor here, deeply stitched into the story, works extremely well, and comes mainly from squeaky-voiced Devine, who can never get a word in edgewise when a decision is being made, and Meek, whose character is a liquor salesman, despite everyone always thinking he's a clergyman (perhaps as an inside joke, the following year's W.C. Fields-Mae West western comedy My Little Chickadee also includes a gag in which a Meek character is assumed to be a clergyman). The new two-disc Stagecoach special edition DVD adds in worthy extras (the movie's previous single disc had none). Among them is the recent PBS-aired John Ford/John Wayne: The Filmmaker & the Legend, which gives a good overview of the ups and downs of the pair's lengthy relationship onscreen and offscreen. The half-hour featurette Stagecoach: A Story of Redemption looks at that relationship within the context of Stagecoach, and how Ford, who'd been grooming Wayne for an acting career, stopped being friendly to him after he starred in Raoul Walsh's early western talkie The Big Trail and rescued the actor from eight years of Grade-C westerns (after Trail was a big flop). Ford gave him one of the all-time great movie close-ups as an entrance and Wayne responded with a relaxed, confident and enormously likeable performance as the sort of flawed hero who would become the hallmark of the western. A great partnership was born, and the western was also rescued from black-hat/white-hat formulas. The featurette also notes how, in adapting Ernest Haycox's short story, Ford and Nichols worked in elements from Guy de Maupassant's Boule de Suif, the same story later adapted in Val Lewton's Madamoiselle Fifi. The new Stagecoach disc, available solo or in the John Wayne-John Ford Film Collection, also has an audio commentary by Ford biographer Scott Eyman and a 1946 radio adaptation of the movie starring Trevor and Randolph Scott. Although the last is divided into chapters from which you can switch ahead or back, you can't pause it or rewind back just a few seconds if you miss something. For more information about Stagecoach, visit Warner Video. To order Stagecoach, go to TCM Shopping. by Paul Sherman

Louise Platt, 1915-2003


Louise Platt, a distinguished stage actress whose all too brief film career included a memorable screen performance as the pregnant wife of a cavalry officer in John Ford's classic western Stagecoach (1939), died on September 6 of natural causes in Greenport, New York. She was 88.

She was born on August 3, 1915 in Stanford, Connecticut. Her father was a Navy doctor who relocated to Annapolis, Maryland when she was a toddler. An early interest in school dramatics eventually led her to theater as a profession, and she made her Broadway debut in 1936 in a Philip Barry play, Spring Dance.

Platt made the move to Hollywood two years later, and although her film career was short (1938-1942), her keen intelligence in a variety of parts left a very pleasant impression on the silver screen. She was an effective romantic lead opposite Henry Fonda in Henry Hathaway's Spawn of the North (1938); held her own in a star-studded cast that included John Wayne, Thomas Mitchell and Claire Trevor, in John Ford's brilliant Stagecoach (1939); displayed a deft comic touch alongside Melvyn Douglas in Leslie Fenton's minor mystery gem Tell No Tales (1939); led a battleship into war (really) in Richard Wallace's cultish adventure yarn Captain Caution (1940); and showed some striking allure as a femme fatale in Jack Hively's noirish thriller Street of Chance (1942).

Despite her uniformly excellent performances in these films, Platt returned to Broadway, where her star shone brightly in the '40s when she landed the leads in such plays as Johnny Belinda and Anne of a Thousand Days. Platt would make some guest appearances on a few television shows in the '50s, including Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Naked City, and a regular role in the popular soap opera The Guiding Light, before returning to the stage for the remainder of her career. She is survived by two daughters and several grandchildren.

by Michael T. Toole

Louise Platt, 1915-2003

Louise Platt, a distinguished stage actress whose all too brief film career included a memorable screen performance as the pregnant wife of a cavalry officer in John Ford's classic western Stagecoach (1939), died on September 6 of natural causes in Greenport, New York. She was 88. She was born on August 3, 1915 in Stanford, Connecticut. Her father was a Navy doctor who relocated to Annapolis, Maryland when she was a toddler. An early interest in school dramatics eventually led her to theater as a profession, and she made her Broadway debut in 1936 in a Philip Barry play, Spring Dance. Platt made the move to Hollywood two years later, and although her film career was short (1938-1942), her keen intelligence in a variety of parts left a very pleasant impression on the silver screen. She was an effective romantic lead opposite Henry Fonda in Henry Hathaway's Spawn of the North (1938); held her own in a star-studded cast that included John Wayne, Thomas Mitchell and Claire Trevor, in John Ford's brilliant Stagecoach (1939); displayed a deft comic touch alongside Melvyn Douglas in Leslie Fenton's minor mystery gem Tell No Tales (1939); led a battleship into war (really) in Richard Wallace's cultish adventure yarn Captain Caution (1940); and showed some striking allure as a femme fatale in Jack Hively's noirish thriller Street of Chance (1942). Despite her uniformly excellent performances in these films, Platt returned to Broadway, where her star shone brightly in the '40s when she landed the leads in such plays as Johnny Belinda and Anne of a Thousand Days. Platt would make some guest appearances on a few television shows in the '50s, including Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Naked City, and a regular role in the popular soap opera The Guiding Light, before returning to the stage for the remainder of her career. She is survived by two daughters and several grandchildren. by Michael T. Toole

Quotes

There are some things a man just can't walk away from.
- Henry, the Ringo Kid
Well, you gotta live no matter what happens.
- Dallas
I can find another wife easy, but not a horse like that.
- Chris
Well, I guess you can't break out of prison and into society in the same week.
- Ringo Kid
"You might need me and this here Winchester, Curley."
- Ringo Kid

Trivia

Asked why, in the climactic chase scene, the Apache warriors didn't simply shoot the horses to stop the stagecoach, director 'Ford, John' replied, "Because that would have been the end of the movie."

This was the first of many films that 'Ford, John' filmed in Monument Valley. Others were: My Darling Clementine (1946), Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), _Wagonmaster (1950)_ , Rio Grande (1950), Searchers, The (1956), Sergeant Rutledge (1960) and his last western, Cheyenne Autumn (1964).

The premise of Ernest Haycox's story comes from Guy de Maupassant famous story 'Boule de Suif' which takes place in Normandy during the 1870 war with Prussians.

Orson Wells privately watched Stagecoach about 40 times while he was making Citizen Kane (1941).

Near the end of the movie, Luke Plummer (Tom Tyler) has a pair of black aces and a pair of black eights. This is the notorious "dead man's hand" supposed to have been held by Wild Bill Hickcock before he was killed.

To simulate being shot during the chase sequence, the Apache actors would ride their horses until they were tripped with a rope and thrown off as the horses fell down. This was before the days of "No animals were harmed in the making of this film," and many horses had to be shot because of broken bones.

Notes

The American folk songs adapted for the score included the traditional ballads "Lily Dale," "Rosa Lee," "Joe Bowers," "Joe the Wrangler," "She's More to Be Pitied Than Censured," "She May Have Seen Better Days" and "Shall We Gather at the River?" Additional songs used for the score included the African-American spiritual "Careless Love;" "My Lulu," music and lyrics by Wilf Carter; "Gentle Annie" and "Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair," music and lyrics by Stephen Collins Foster; "Ten Thousand Cattle," music and lyrics by Owen Wister; and "Trail to Mexico (Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie)," a traditional ballad whose strains are heard in the opening credits and throughout the film. A New York Times article noted that John Wayne was borrowed from Republic, and that he "was the first star Republic has loaned to a major lot." According to Hollywood Reporter pre-release news items, Andy Devine was borrowed from Universal and John Carradine was borrowed from Twentieth Century-Fox. A January 1939 Hollywood Reporter news item notes that Republic had to postpone The Three Mesquiteers pictures which at that time starred Wayne, for six weeks because of Wayne's participation in Stagecoach. Contemporary information indicates that director John Ford had asked David O. Selznick to produce the film but Selznick turned him down. A biography of Ford notes that he spent $2,500 for the rights to the Ernest Haycox story on which the film was based, and further notes that in 1937, after co-writing a script with Dudley Nichols, Ford tried unsuccessfully to interest Darryl Zanuck at Twentieth Century-Fox. Other studios approached, according to the biography, were M-G-M, Paramount, Columbia and Warner Bros. Some modern sources indicate that Walter Wanger wanted Gary Cooper and Marlene Dietrich cast as the leads, but Ford insisted on Wayne and Claire Trevor. Stagecoach marked the first of three films in 1939 and 1940 in which Wayne and Trevor were paired as a romantic team. Modern sources note that the film was originally budgeted at $392,000, and cost over $500,000 to make. Gerard Carbonara, according to modern sources, worked on the score. Stagecoach was Ford's first picture using Monument Valley, Utah as a location. In addition to Monument Valley, contemporary sources note that scenes were shot on location at Kern River near Kernville, Fremont Pass at Newhall, Muroc Dry Lake near Victorville, Chatsworth and Calabasas, CA, and Kayenta and Mesa, AZ. According to publicity items, the picture was produced with the cooperation of the Navajo-Apache Indian agencies and the U.S. Department of the Interior. Modern sources have frequently indicated that Stagecoach elevated Wayne's career above "B" status, and raised the status of Westerns from the "B" to "A" level as well. However, according to contemporary sources, Stagecoach was one of several Westerns made between late 1938 and early 1939 that were produced on large budgets including, Union Pacific, Jesse James, Dodge City and Stand Up and Fight. In a New York Times article on December 25, 1938, Hollywood-based writer Douglas W. Churchill noted that "The arroyos and the canyons of the West are resounding to the declamations of the glamour boys astride their pintos. The raucous-voiced independent cowboy stars have surrendered the deserts to the higher-priced performers..." New York Times writer Frank S. Nugent wrote an article for the paper in March 1939 in which he expressed similar thoughts: "We've formed the habit of taking our horse operas in a Class B stride...But all that is now changed." Nugent went on to say, "But if, in principle, we look askance upon the grand horse opera, in practice we must admit a wholly immature delight over...Stagecoach...he [Ford] has taken the old formula...and has applied himself and his company to it with the care, zeal and craftsmanship that might have been accorded the treatment of a bright new theme." Stagecoach was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Picture. Thomas Mitchell received an Academy Award for his supporting role as "Doc Boone," and Richard Hageman, Franke Harling, John Leipold and Leo Shuken received an Academy Award for their score. Although Louis Gruenberg was also credited with the score, his name was not included in the nomination. Stagecoach also made the National Board of Review's ten best list, and Ford was honored as best director of 1939 by the New York Film Critics. Wayne and Trevor recreated their roles in a 1946 radio broadcast, introduced by John Ford, and Trevor and Randolph Scott appeared in a radio version in 1946. Stagecoach was remade by Martin Rackin Productions in 1966, directed by Gordon Douglas and starring Ann-Margret and Alex Cord (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70; F6.4677). A made-for-television movie of the story, directed by Ted Post and starring Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, aired on the CBS network on May 18, 1986.

Miscellaneous Notes

Selected in 1995 for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.

Released in United States 1973

Released in United States August 1989

Released in United States June 1989

Released in United States Spring March 9, 1939

Shown at Film Forum in New York City June 21 & 22, 1989.

Shown at Norwegian Film Festival in Haugesund (Norwegian Film Institute Golden Anniversary) August 19-25, 1989.

Based on the short story "Stage to Lordsburg" by Ernest Haycox in Collier's (April, 1937).

Released in United States 1973 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (The Great American Films) November 15 - December 16, 1973.)

Released in United States June 1989 (Shown at Film Forum in New York City June 21 & 22, 1989.)

Released in United States August 1989 (Shown at Norwegian Film Festival in Haugesund (Norwegian Film Institute Golden Anniversary) August 19-25, 1989.)

Released in USA on video.

Released in United States Spring March 9, 1939