Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Stage Coach (1939)

“If there's anything I don't like, it's driving a stagecoach through Apache country.” 

Stagecoach is a film I knew I had to sit through eventually because it was made in Hollywood’s greatest year 1939. I had it downloaded for almost two years and never sat down to watch it until today. I dragged my heels because one, it is a Western and I am not the biggest fan of Westerns and two, it was a John Wayne film and up until a few months ago I was not the biggest fan of John Wayne. What gave me a kick in the pants to watch this is Barnes and Noble is currently having a sale on the Criterion DVDs and I figured I should watch it so I can get it on sale at half off if I like I like it. I did wind up liking Stagecoach it was a very well made film but with a plot that was somewhat boring.
            Stagecoach is the tale of nine people traveling in, well, a stagecoach to get to the town of Lordsburg in New Mexico. Dallas (Claire Trevor) and Doc Boone (Thomas Mitchell) have been kicked out from the small Arizona town because the ladies of the Law and Order League found them to be indecent. A young southern woman named Lucy Mallory is traveling to see her cavalry husband who has been stationed out west is joining the stagecoach as well. The town gambler Hatfield sees Lucy from the window of the bar he is sitting at and is very taken with her. He tells her he will go with her to protect her. Two other men- a whiskey salesman and a banker who is embezzling $50,000 from his bank- join the trip.
            New reaches the town marshal, Marshal Curly, that the Ringo Kid (John Wayne) has escaped from jail. He knows that Ringo will be heading down to Lordsburg to seek revenge for the deaths of his father and brother on a man named Luke Plummer. Curly goes with the coach driver Buck for protection and to take Ringo back to jail. But Ringo is not the real threat the coach will be driving through Apache territory out in the desert and there have been reports of them attacking whole towns and anyone who travels through their land. Curly and the coach come across Ringo hiding out. He gets in the coach even though Curly told him he has to be arrested.
            Buck gets the coach safely to a cavalry camp. A group of soldiers has escorted them to the camp. When they get there the cavalry that was supposed to take them the next step of the journey has gone they were given different orders. Lucy’s husband was one of the soldiers given orders to leave. The travelers take a vote whether to carry on without an escort or stay where they are. Each of them votes to move along.
            The coach stops next at a Mexican reservation. They did not plan to stay long but Lucy, who is pregnant, collapses when she hears her husband has been wounded in a battle and goes into labor. While Doc Boone and Dallas help Lucy, the Mexican who runs the reservation his wife who is an Apache runs off with the extra horses. Dallas comes out with Lucy’s baby girl in her arms. Ringo has fallen in love with Dallas and even more so when he sees the baby in her arms. He tells her that he wants to marry her regardless of her past. Dallas wants to accept but she just cannot after the way she has lived her life. She does however try to help Ringo escape the next day but he does not get very far after he sees the Apaches sending war signals over the mountains. The group was planning on leaving in the following two days but after what Ringo and Curly saw they decide to move immediately.
            The next town the coach comes to has been burned down along with the ferry and the bridge to get across the river. The men build a float from wood around the coach and float across. Almost as soon as they get across the river the Apaches begin to attack.
            Before you can get used to the gun fighting the coach pulls safely into Lordsburg. Everyone is alright save for the whiskey salesman who was shot with a bow and arrow but survived thanks to Doc Boone and Hatfield who was killed by a bullet. Ringo has Plummer and his brothers come out to a shootout. Ringo comes out alright and expects to be in jail a lot longer and tells Curly to bring Dallas to his ranch across the border. Curly says he will and allows Dallas to ride to edge of town with him. Once she gets in Curly and Doc Boone begin to laugh and push the horse off letting Ringo and Dallas go to his ranch house.
            I was a bit bored with the story after a while to me it just seemed to drag. I did like how all these different people going to another town for so many different reasons were riding together. It was interesting to see their personalities mix.
            John Wayne, the more I see of him the more I like his acting even though he was by far not the greatest actor. I loved his character because he was a nice man to Dallas when no one else was. This film gave Wayne his big break and he deserved the break because he was very good. I must say he was incredibly handsome especially in one scene when they are driving through the colder part of the desert and he lifts his head up to look at Dallas… I think I drooled a little he was so handsome! Claire Trevor was not bad I do not think I have ever seen her in a film before. She was alright there were some parts where she went a little overboard. Thomas Mitchell played Doc Boone; he was a drunken Irish man… what a shock. Besides Gone with the Wind I have seen him in three other films and have enjoyed him in every one of them. Andy Devine plays Buck and I am sure as soon as you hear him speak you will think to yourself that his voice sounds extremely familiar. If you have ever seen Disney’s version of Robin Hood he plays Friar Tuck. It was really neat to see the man who does the voice for a cartoon character I have seen so many times over the years. It is hard to imagine that was Devine’s real voice!
            This was the first time John Ford and John Wayne made a film together. They would go on to make several more films together including The Quiet Man which I love. Ford is a great director he really lets you get to know the characters not matter how long the film is and captures great action sequences. What was great about the film was how Ford really made you feel claustrophobic like the characters sitting bunched up in the small coach. Ford is one of few directors that when I watch their films I know I will not be let down.
            Orson Welles wrote that Stagecoach is a perfect example of filmmaking and watched over and over again as he was filming Citizen Kane. The filmmaking definitely makes up for the slowness in some areas, it is so excellent. There is no doubt that Stagecoach is a film made in 1939 when filmmaking had really culminated. Stagecoach is an all around classic of how movies should be made.