In the beginning there were westerns, B-films and their variant, ‘bang,bang and drop- dead- you- fool!-kind of stuff but with John Ford’s Stagecoach in 1939 the westerns got class and lot of respect. It made John Wayne a star. Since then a western film without him was like a Thanksgiving dinner without turkey. ‘Ford here introduced his signature Western setting of Monument Valley, lending Stagecoach a realism that set it apart from studio-bound films; and his deep focus interiors preceded Citizen Kane by two years. A critical and commercial hit, Stagecoach helped spearhead the revival of the Western as a viable A-feature… When he made Citizen Kane, Orson Welles claimed that he learned everything about directing movies from watching Stagecoach more than 40 times. ~ Lucia Bozzola, All Movie Guide
What separated the film from other Westerns was the way Ford and screenwriter Dudley Nichols artfully balanced the genre’s standard action with the character studies. Within 96 minutes of its running time Ford could round off action and development of the story on a telling metaphor: the stagecoach as a microcosm of the confrontation between “civilization” and “savagery.” (Naturally the Native Americans will take strong exception to the bald statement.) The scenes where the coach journeys through hostile Apache territory are memorable and the irony of a honor-bound outlaw Ringo fighting valiantly for the very society that has shunned him makes the film singularly memorable.
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)), 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), a fallen woman with a heart of gold and Doc Boone (Mitchell) are passengers. They are being run out of town by its more proper residents. The doctor for being hopelessly drunk on the job while Dallas, not for her good heart but for being a prostitute are not welcome there. ( Dallas reminded me of ‘Ball of Fat,’ a story by Guy de Maupassant.) Marshal Curly Wilcox (Bancroft) makes sure both make it onto that afternoon’s stage, driven by the talkative (to the point of being obnoxious) Buck, played by Devine. 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, as it turns out in the end, 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 dreams the impossible dream of settling down 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. Lucy a prim and proper lady is in a hurry and she turns out to be pregnant. So naturally she is 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).
Henry, the Ringo Kid: Well, there are some things a man just can’t run away from.
Dallas: Well, you gotta live no matter what happens.
Marshal Curly Wilcox: Come busting in here – you’d think we were being attacked! You can find another wife.
Chris: Sure I can find another wife. But she take my rifle and my horse. Oh, I’ll never sell her. I love her so much. I beat her with a whip and she never get tired.
Dr. Josiah Boone: Your wife?
Chris: No, my horse. I can find another wife easy, yes, but not a horse like that!
Ringo Kid: Well, I guess you can’t break out of prison and into society in the same week.
Ringo Kid: You may need me and this Winchester, Curly. Saw a ranch house burnin’ last night.
[the telegraph breaks off in mid-message]
Capt. Sickel: Well? What’s wrong?
Telegraph operator: The line went dead, sir.
Capt. Sickel: What have you got here?
Telegraph operator: Only the first word, sir.
Capt. Sickel: (reading) Geronimo.
[Lt. Blanchard has just informed the stagecoach occupants that the cavalry will not escort them to Lordsburg]
Marshal Curly Wilcox: This stage is going to Lordsburg. If you think it ain’t safe to ride along with us, I figure we can get there without you soldier boys.
Henry Gatewood: So you’re the notorious Ringo Kid.
The Ringo Kid: My friends just call me Ringo – nickname I had as a kid. Right name’s Henry.
The Ringo Kid: That was my kid brother that broke his arm. You did a good job, Doc, even if you were drunk.
Dr. Josiah Boone: Thank you, son. Professional compliments are always pleasing.
Marshal Curly Wilcox: Now folks, if we push on we can be in Apache Wells by sundown. Soldiers there will give us an escort as far as the ferry. Then it’s only a hoot and a holler into Lordsburg. We got four men who can handle firearms – five with you, Ringo. Doc can shoot if sober.
[the stagecoach occupants vote on whether to continue without a cavalry escort]
Marshal Curly Wilcox: You, Doc?
Dr. Josiah Boone: I‘m not only a philosopher, sir, I’m a fatalist. Somewhere, sometime, there may be the right bullet or the wrong bottle waiting for Josiah Boone. Why worry when or where?
Marshal Curly Wilcox: Yes or no?
Dr. Josiah Boone: Having that philosophy, sir, I’ve always courted danger. During the late war – when I had the honor to serve the Union under our great president, Abraham Lincoln… and General Phil Sheridan – well, sir, I fought mid shot and shell and cannon roar…
Marshal Curly Wilcox: Do you wanna go back or not?
Dr. Josiah Boone: No! I want another drink.
[Mrs. Mallory, a passenger, has just given birth]
Buck: Hey, Curly, do you think I oughta charge Mrs. Mallory’s baby half fare?
Dr. Josiah Boone: I’ll take that shotgun, Luke.
Luke Plummer: You’ll take it in the belly if you don’t get out of my way.
Dr. Josiah Boone: I’ll have you indicted for murder if you step outside with that shotgun.
Luke Plummer: [throws the shotgun on the bar] We’ll attend to you later.
Dr. Josiah Boone: [to bartender after Plummer leaves] Don’t ever let me do that again.
Ed (editor): McCoy! Billy, kill that story about the Republican Convention in Chicago and take this down: “The Ringo Kid was killed on Main Street in Lordsburg tonight. And among the additional dead were…” Leave that blank for a spell.
McCoy, typesetter: I didn’t hear any shootin’, Ed.
Ed (editor): You will, Billy, you will.
Dr. Josiah Boone: Jerry, I’ll admit as one man to another that, economically, I haven’t been of much value to you. But do you suppose you could put one on credit?
Jerry (bartender): If talk was money, Doc, you’d be the best customer I got.
Buck: If I was you, I’d let them shoot it out.
Marshal Curly Wilcox: Let who?
Buck: Luke Plummer and the Kid. There would be a lot more peace in this territory if that Luke Plummer was so full of lead he couldn’t hold his liquor.
Henry, the Ringo Kid: Hold it!
Buck: If there’s anything I don’t like, it’s driving a stagecoach through Apache country.
Cavalry scout: These hills here are full of Apaches. They’ve burnt every ranch building in sight.
[referring to Indian scout]
Cavalry scout: He had a brush with them last night. Says they’re being stirred up by Geronimo.
Capt. Sickel: Geronimo? How do we know he isn’t lying?
Cavalry scout: No, he’s a Cheyenne. They hate Apaches worse than we do.
Dr. Josiah Boone: Well, they’re saved from the blessings of civilization.
Marshal Curly Wilcox: Yeah.
Marshal Curly Wilcox: Doc, I’ll buy you a drink.
Dr. Josiah Boone: Just one.
Dr. Josiah Boone: [drunkenly to his hideous landlady upon eviction] Is this the face that wrecked 1000 ships and burned the towerless tops of Illium? Farewell, fair Helen.
Dr. Josiah Boone: Seems to me I knew your family, Henry. Didn’t I fix your arm once when you, oh, bumped off a horse?
Ringo Kid: Are you Doc Boone?
Dr. Josiah Boone: I certainly am. Ah, let’s see… I’d just been honorably discharged from the Union Army after the War of the Rebellion.
Hatfield: You mean the War for the Southern Confederacy, sir.
Dr. Josiah Boone: I mean nothing of the kind, sir!
Ringo Kid: That was my kid brother broke his arm. You did a good job, Doc, even if you was drunk.
Dr. Josiah Boone: Thank you, son. Professional compliments are always pleasing. What happened to that boy whose arm I fixed?
Ringo Kid: He was murdered.
Hatfield: A gentleman doesn’t smoke in the presence of a lady.
Dr. Josiah Boone: Three weeks ago I took a bullet out of a man who was shot by a gentleman. The bullet was in his back!
Hatfield: You mean to insinuate…
Ringo Kid: Sit down, mister. Doc don’t mean no harm.
Ringo Kid: Look, Miss Dallas. You got no folks… neither have I. And, well, maybe I’m takin’ a lot for granted, but… I watched you with that baby – that other woman’s baby. You looked… well, well I still got a ranch across the border. There’s a nice place – a real nice place… trees… grass… water. There’s a cabin half built. A man could live there… and a woman. Will you go?
Dallas: But you don’t know me – you don’t know who I am.
Ringo Kid: I know all I wanna know. Will you go?
Dallas: Oh, don’t talk like that!
[the stagecoach occupants are voting whether or not to continue without a cavalry escort]
Marshal Curly Wilcox: How ’bout you, Mr. Hancock?
Samuel Peacock: Peacock. I’d like to go on, brother. I want to reach the bosom of my dear family in Kansas City, Kansas as quickly as possible; but, I may never reach that bosom if we go on… so, under the circumstances – you understand, brother – I think it best we go back with the bosoms… I mean the soldiers.
Henry Gatewood: [clutching valise with embezzled funds] I can’t get over the impertinence of that young lieutenant. I’ll make it warm for that shake-tail! I’ll report him to Washington – we pay taxes to the government and what do we get? Not even protection from the army! I don’t know what the government is coming to. Instead of protecting businessmen, it pokes its nose into business! Why, they’re even talking now about having *bank* examiners. As if we bankers don’t know how to run our own banks! Why, at home I have a letter from a popinjay official saying they were going to inspect my books. I have a slogan that should be blazoned on every newspaper in this country: America for the Americans! The government must not interfere with business! Reduce taxes! Our national debt is something shocking. Over one billion dollars a year! What this country needs is a businessman for president!
On John Ford (ack: wikipedia)
John Ford (February 1, 1894 – August 31, 1973) was Academy Award-winning American film director of Irish heritage famous for both his westerns such as Stagecoach and The Searchers and adaptations of such classic 20th-century American novels as The Grapes of Wrath. His four Best Director Academy Awards (1935, 1940, 1941, 1952) is a record still unmatched, although only one of those films, How Green Was My Valley, won Best Picture.
His style of film-making has been tremendously influential, leading colleagues such as Ingmar Bergman and Orson Welles to name him as one of the greatest directors of all time. In particular, Ford is a pioneer of location shooting and the extreme long shot, which frames his characters against a vast, harsh and rugged natural terrain. Ford has further influenced directors as diverse as Akira Kurosawa, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Sam Peckinpah, Peter Bogdanovich, Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood, Wim Wenders, Judd Apatow, David Lean, Orson Welles, Ingmar Bergman, François Truffaut, and Jean-Luc Godard.
Ford’s favorite location for his films was in southern Utah’s Monument Valley… Ford’s evocative use of the territory for his Westerns has defined the images of the American West so powerfully that Orson Welles once said that other film-makers refused to shoot in the region out of fears of plagiarism.
He tended only to shoot the footage he needed and in the right sequence, minimizing the job of his film editors.
check out films cinebuff.wordpress.com