Stagecoach (1939) Poster


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A great western which enables multiple interpretations
Brandt Sponseller30 April 2005
John Wayne is "The Ringo Kid" in this John Ford-directed parable of outcasts traveling towards various kinds of figurative and literal redemption/salvation. On a surface level, the basic plot is disarmingly simple--a motley crew of eight takes a stagecoach from Tonto to Lordsburg, trying to avoid Geronimo and his Apaches on the way. They are having their own problems with the U.S. government and are thus likely to attack. The stagecoach bounces from outpost to outpost while the relationships of its passengers evolve, helping each other to "find themselves" and (usually) providing hope of some kind of new life.

The Ringo Kid has been wrongly accused of a crime and is on his way to Lordsburg to avenge both the false accusations and more importantly, the murder of his father and brother. Dallas (Claire Trevor) is implied to be a prostitute, and so is ostracized from Tonto (which means "stupid", "foolish" or "daft" in Spanish) by a self-stylized matronly moral majority. Doc Boone (Thomas Mitchell) is far more concerned with getting drunk than being a doctor, and is partially ostracizing himself from Tonto. Hatfield (John Carradine) is a "gambler gentleman" with a shady reputation and a false identity. Lucy Mallory (Louise Platt) is trying to get to her husband, who is in the military; she's in a surprisingly "secret" physical state. Samuel Peacock, whom everyone keeps mistaking for a reverend, is in the alcohol business and just wants to get back east to get back to his business. Henry Gatewood is a crooked banker trying to flee before his questionable dealings are discovered. And the stagecoach drivers consist of a lovable buffoon, Buck (Andy Devine) and the most forthright, straight arrow of the bunch, Marshal Curly Wilcox (George Bancroft).

Even though Stagecoach remains tightly focused on its wilderness road trip, that might seem like a large stable of characters to shape into a taut plot. Ford, working from script by Dudley Nichols and Ben Hecht, based on a short story, "Stage to Lordsburg", by Ernest Haycox (which itself bears a relation to Guy de Maupassant's "Boule de Suif", 1880), keeps the proceedings in check by only giving us the information we need to explore the evolving relationships, and only focusing on each character when they're important to the plot. This results in a few of the characters being functionally absent for extended lengths of time, but Ford can so easily establish a "deep" character with a minimum of screen time that the absences are not a detriment.

The principal focus, of course, is between Ringo and Dallas, as on a significant level, Stagecoach becomes a romance. They're initially brought together via their mutual ostracization, even among the ostracized, which gives them an immediate bond beyond their physical attraction towards one another. Wayne and Trevor are both fantastic in their roles, avoiding the occasional overacting by some other performers. But this is a film where it's difficult to count the slight overacting as a flaw, as it was more of a stylistic tendency of the genre during this period and it provides a nice counterbalance to Wayne and Trevor.

Stagecoach is also famous for its setting. Much of the film was shot in Utah's Monument Valley, along authentic stagecoach "roads". The (beautiful) starkness of the desert is often taken as a symbolic trip through a kind of purgatory for the characters, where they're left alone with their souls, their only connection being their small group, to contemplate their pasts and futures. Whether we choose to read something along those lines into the film or not, Monument Valley is at least a captivating presence in the film, although for me, the cinematography could have been better technically, especially considering that Stagecoach was made at the same time as The Wizard of Oz (1939). Ford's famous tendency to do only one take results in a couple minor gaffes, such as the initial shot of John Wayne--a zoom into a close-up--that is out of focus for most of the zoom.

As one could guess, eventually our passengers run into a band of Apaches, who are often interpreted as representing more of a "natural force" that our heroes must surmount. The climax features a fabulous extended chase/fight sequence with a number of amazing stunts by both humans and animals. The most impressive human stunts are performed by the legendary Yakima Canutt, including one that involved being dragged through the dirt by the horse-pulled stagecoach, which was moving along at about 40 miles per hour and supposedly missed running over Canutt by only 12 inches (30.5 cm). This scene was an inspiration for a similar stunt in Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).

Although it's not a "perfect" film to me, and it's not even my favorite western (I'm more partial to the classic spaghetti westerns, for example), Stagecoach is a very good film and was very influential, despite being made at a time when Ford was told that he was committing professional suicide by even contemplating a western. As the plethora of critical literature attests, it works on many levels, including as an allegorical microcosm of U.S. Depression-era society, and should be seen at least once by anyone serious about film literacy.
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Great ensemble western
ninazero6 May 2004
I grew up watching the old, crotchety, gruff John Wayne, the iconic hero of the right wing, and even though I'd seen some of his early films on television, I'd forgotten what a sexy and compelling presence he had when a young man. It's easy to see while watching his performance how this film made him a star. As great as Wayne is in this film, he doesn't overshadow any of his fellow performers. Thomas Mitchell plays the drunken doctor thrown out of town, a performance that earned him an Academy Award. Andy Devine is hilarious as the complaining, squeaky voiced stagecoach driver. John Carradine is sleek and snake-like as the gambler. Claire Trevor gives a heartbreaking turn as the good-hearted whore thrown out of town by pious hypocrites. Donald Meek plays his name, a meek whiskey salesman befriended by the whiskey-loving Doc. Each actor quickly and deftly sketches his character so vividly that every performance is memorable.

But the real star of the show is John Ford, the director. To introduce and define nine characters in the context of a fast-paced western is no easy task, and he accomplishes it in masterly fashion. Much of the action takes place in the limited confines of a stagecoach, but Ford takes advantage of the limits by staging brilliant and subtle bits between characters; John Wayne casts sultry glances at Clare Trevor, who blossoms under his glance, the young calvary wife's eyes glaze over as the banker pontificates, and Doc sneaks sips of whiskey from the samples case while he solicitously keeps the wind from chilling the whiskey salesman. When the action moves outside, he films the action in dynamic angles and stunts that were the most daring of its time.

If you enjoy westerns and haven't seen this, you have a great night of film-watching ahead of you. And if the last time you saw Stagecoach was some midnight years ago when you wandered home for a bit of the late show before bedtime, watch it again and rediscover what a great western it is
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The classic film that started it all.
SanDiego20 September 2003
The Overland Stage Lines stagecoach is traveling from the frontier town of Tonto, Arizona to Lordsburg, New Mexico. Geronimo, the Apache chief, has just jumped the reservation and starts an uprising. Before leaving Tonto, the passengers are notified by the Calvary that they are now traveling at their own considerable risk but they will be escorted by the soldiers (here's a clue: don't believe it). Among the passengers are a prostitute being thrown out of town by a group of women with their noses so stuck up in the air you could fly flags off of them. She is joined by a drunken doctor, a gentlemen card shark, a meek whiskey salesman, a crooked banker, a pregnant woman on her way to meet her husband, and a young cowboy who just broke out of jail and out to revenge his family's murder. The coach driver and his shotgun complete the group.

It's all based on a short story called appropriately Stage to Lordsburg but also on a French story (Guy de Maupassant's Boule de Suif) with similar characters traveling in a coach during the Franco-Prussian War.

The basic structure of the plot is also familiar to fans of disaster films. Passengers are introduced, board a common conveyance and face a tremendous danger. The exciting adventure of who lives, who dies, will the stage make it to its destination, and what happens next is highlighted by perhaps the most famous stunts in film history by the most famous and respected stuntman of all Yakima Canutt. If one of the stunts looks familiar, Steven Speilberg recreated it for his first Indiana Jones film.

The film is also a lot more. Unlike other westerns up to its time which were mainly shoot-em-ups between the good guys in the white hats and the bad guys in the black hats, it examines very serious social issues and how different people look down at others differently. Besides prejudice, some of the characters are flawed with alcoholism, greed and revenge. We also see the good in bad people with respect for new life and ultimately redemption. Nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Interior Decoration, Best Film Editing, Best Supporting Actor (won) and Best Score (won), Stagecoach was John Ford's first sound Western and elevated the genre in both critical praise and popularity. The low camera angles in Monument Valley would become a John Ford trademark. Despite doing 70 films, this is the one that made Wayne a star and it's easy to see why. Many consider it his best performance; both subtle and clear he cares for the needs of the people around him and yearns for his own need for a home, a wife and a family. It is considered one of the great films in cinemas greatest year, 1939. Gone With the Wind, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Wuthering Heights, Dark Victory, The Wizard of Oz, Of Mice and Men and Ninotchka were all nominated for best picture alongside Stagecoach that year.

Regarding the political incorrectness of an Apache uprising, well, they happened. If you just happened to be in a stagecoach in the middle of the southwest during an Apache uprising chances are you would be killed. This story does not examine the reasons for the uprising only the effects on a group of travelers trying to travel through it.
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One of the greatest westerns of all time.
gitrich18 December 1998
Stagecoach is not your normal, run of the mill, western. It will have you on the edge of your seat as passengers make their way through some dangerous Indian country. By the time the film ends, you will know all of the characters very well and ,for the most part,care whether they live or die.John Ford's excellent directing, great performances from John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Andy Devine and, especially, Thomas Mitchell who won an Acadamy Award for his portrayal of a drunken doctor aboard the stage. Add a great score, super stunt work, and filming done at Monument Valley (Arizona /Utah border) and you have a complete motion picture. I highly recommend "Stagecoach".
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Grandeur of Monument Valley, Utah, became part of the signature on a John Ford Western...
Nazi_Fighter_David15 September 2002
Warning: Spoilers
The remarkable thing about Ford's Westerns is his gift for simultaneously contemplating people as individuals and as representatives of virtues, vices, and other abstract qualities…

"Stagecoach" is the Western to combine successfully the poetic grandeur and sense of myth-making of the real and imagery West with pure entertainment values… It is the Western in which the public first saw Monument Valley, Utah on film – a place that Ford would revisit again and again, and that became his favorite location for the exterior sequences of his Westerns… It is the first Western to combine successfully the poetic grandeur and sense of myth-making of the real and imaginary West with pure entertainment values... It is so rich it has become a treasury of Western characters and motifs… Prior to 'Stagecoach,' the western was in grievous decline, but with 'Stagecoach' a renaissance occurred...

"Stagecoach" makes much capital out of an early means of communication… Ford used it as a symbol – there is nothing more striking, as an image of loneliness, than a long-shot of a coach twisting its way through the arid and dry South-Western landscape – but also as a box for shaking and mixing human drama… The combination is devastating… Despite some complaining criticism that there is just a little too much contrivance about the selection of passengers riding in the 'box', that they look as if they've been handpicked for contrast and for drama, "Stagecoach" always repays another look… It still works admirably… Time takes little away from it…

Everything seems to fit in "Stagecoach" from the first moment that the camera races in on the imposing figure of John Wayne, a man of heroic size with a powerful stance, twirling his Winchester rifle in one hand to the gallery of colorful portraits in a shaking box to the dramatic black and white photography taking advantage of every trick of light and shade including cloudscapes and silhouettes…

Ford carefully selected 'characters' boxed in for a troublesome ride… They are not characters, save perhaps for the drunken doctor, in the usual Ford sense of beloved eccentrics… They are highly contrasted 'types' who, by some alchemy that the movie develops, do grow to some extent into credible human beings…

Apart from the drunken Doc (superb1y played by Thomas Mitchell), there's the mysterious southern gambler (John Carradine), a pregnant wife (Louise Platt) joining her soldier husband, a Whisky salesman (Donald Meek) who could kid anyone at first sight—especially an audience—that he's a parson, a whore with a heart of gold (Claire Trevor), and an absconding banker (Barton Churchill). Andy Devine is in the driving seat, George Bancroft, as a U.S. Marshal, rides shot-gun and keeps a wary though fatherly eye on the Ringo Kid (john Wayne) who has come along for at least part of the ride...

Two things are at once apparent… Ford is employing a dramatic device for which there is plenty of precedent—compressing diverse characters into a confined and highly charged situation in the certainty of reactions, and, secondly, that the Claire Trevor character is the spitting image, as they say, of Maupassant's tart, Boule de Suife…

Geronimo will be the catalyst for this load of combustibles… He's on the loose again and the escorting cavalry have already had to say their farewells to the coach party…

Along the way you will also see: The birth of a child, the telegraph lines cut, an attack by Indians, a chase, a cavalry rescue, a poker game, a three-against-one gunfight on the streets of a town, and an exciting climax…

"Stagecoach" leaves a whole host of abiding impressions… There is the dramatic black and white photography taking advantage of every trick of light and shade in the wonderful Monument Valley location… It was the first time that Ford had used this setting within the Navajo Indian reservation around and about the Arizona-Utah state dividing line… The eroded lunar landscape has its own beauty and its own menace and these two qualities are reflected in the film… Cloudscapes and silhouettes—these linger on.

"Stagecoach" bulged with all the required ingredients of the classic Western… It carried a full complement of the historic-pioneering elements and it also made room for that other constituent, the domestic law and order issue…
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Over the rise, it's the Duke, Winchester in hand
bkoganbing5 September 2005
One of my favorite movie shots of all time comes in Stagecoach when the coach rounds a bend and you see a figure in the distance and has the camera zooms in closer you recognize it as John Wayne, saddle in one hand and winchester rifle in the other.

Certainly the figure of John Wayne is familiar enough even to today's moviegoers as the man who put more people in theater seats than any other player. But back then in 1939 all he was known as was B picture cowboy who was a friend of John Ford, whom Ford happened to be giving a break to. He sure took advantage of it.

Wayne heads an ensemble group of players who are journeying from Tonto to Lordsburg by stagecoach. It is a dramatization of the western novel by Ernest Haycox and John Ford brilliantly cast his film.

Anyone of them could have been Oscar material, but one player did win an Oscar, Thomas Mitchell as the alcoholic Doc Boone. 1939 was maybe the highpoint of Mitchell's career. Imagine being in three films nominated for Oscars, Stagecoach, Gone With the Wind, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. He could have been nominated for any one of them.

On top of the coach is driver Andy Devine and riding shotgun is Marshal George Bancroft. Devine is a befuddled dunce and a lot of reviewers usually pass him over in talking about the film. To be sure he is, but there is a scene where the stagecoach has to cross a deep stream. A pontoon like device is rigged, but it's professional teamster Andy Devine who drives the stage across with his team swimming it. He may be a dunce, but he's a professional at his job. I think it was Andy's moment to shine.

Bancroft is a stern but kindly marshal. He and Mitchell are friends of Wayne who plays the Ringo Kid. Wayne's busted out the penitentiary to get the Plummer brothers who framed him. There's a reward for Wayne, but Marshal Bancroft ain't worried about the reward, he's concerned about Wayne getting killed, biting off more than he can chew.

However Mitchell spends most of the journey cultivating mild mannered Donald Meek who's a whiskey salesman. A useful friend to have you like to imbibe. If ever a character actor was aptly named it certainly had to be Donald Meek.

In 1939 you couldn't say that Claire Trevor was playing a prostitute named Dallas. But it's surely hinted at often enough. Claire Trevor was Hollywood's greatest portrayer of girls with easy virtue and a heart of gold which she has here. She got her Oscar in Key Largo again playing just such a role. The difference is she loves good guy John Wayne instead bad guy Edward G. Robinson in Key Largo.

And to add to the mix we have an embezzling banker on the journey played by Berton Churchill who played many a sanctimonious hypocrite in his career. He gets news that the telegraph is down because of the Apaches on the warpath and in an act of impulse fills a satchel full of the bank's money and grabs the stagecoach at the last minute. He's also trying to escape a hatchet faced harridan of a wife. Nevertheless he's the least sympathetic and most useless character on the journey.

A few months ago I saw and reviewed the film Carrie which was based on a Theodore Dreiser novel. The lead character in that, George Hurstwood is also an embezzler of his employer's money as he runs away to New York to get away from his harridan of a wife. But Hurstwood, same crime for the same reasons, is a sympathetic figure. Not our friend banker Gatewood as Churchill portrays him here. It some times depends on the writer's point of view.

The last two passengers are John Carradine a mysterious gambler of Southern origins and the pregnant wife of an Army Captain played by stage actress Louise Platt. He also boards the stage at the last minute as he's crushing out big time over her. He becomes her protector during the journey.

Of course Stagecoach is the first film that John Ford shot in Monument Valley and the long shots of the valley with the lonely stagecoach driving on to Lordsburg are breathtaking.

And there's the Indian attack. The question is often asked why didn't the Indians just shoot the horses. The real answer is you wouldn't want to cut short abruptly one of the most spectacular chase scenes in film history. And then of course maybe the Indians wanted the live horses.

Ford uses for the first time a spectacular gambit during the Indian attack. I won't say more, but think about the fact that he repeated the same shot in Fort Apache with the Indians chasing John Agar and the repair party there.

What I like most about Stagecoach altogether is that it sticks to the first rule of movies, it moves. Even in the scenes of dialog inside the coach you get the feeling of movement. Nothing static about it, and the story could never be adequately done on a stage.

It's what movie making is all about.
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Stagecoach, a great movie, a great western.
shih_tzu26 March 2002
I first saw Stagecoach the year it was released 1939, when I was nine years old. I saw it again the other afternoon as a rerun on tv. Despite that technically it is showing it's age, afterall it is 63 years old, and all of it's players are no longer with us, it is still one of the greatest westerns to ever grace a cinema screen. The indian attack, the cavalry to the rescue, the drunken doctor, the bar room floozie with a heart of gold, the gambler, and the hero doing "what a man's got to do" and escaping without a scratch . All the ingredients and more of a classic western but done superbly. Not a scene overplayed, not a (film) shot wasted.
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The western that made Wayne a major movie star, the western that upgraded the genre from B grade to A grade n the first western that was shot in the beautiful Monument Valley.
Fella_shibby6 May 2018
Saw this in the 90s on a vhs. Revisited it recently on a bluray. It is an awesome entertaining film with beautiful scenery n amazing action sequences. The long shots captured the landscapes well, the characters r all very memorable n the tension is maintained throughout, the action scenes were top notch, especially the stagecoach running in the middle of the vast wide open space n pursued by the Indians. Wayne shooting his guns from the top n he controlling the horses were amazing action sequences. This movie did two great things. Wayne became a major movie star n western movies upgraded to A grade. It is also the first western shot in the beautiful Monument Valley. The movie is about a group of passengers who r travelling in a stagecoach. The passengers are given the alarming news that Geronimo is on the warpath and that their lives are in danger but each of the passenges has their own reasons for taking the risk. When the Marshall is informed that an outlaw is present in the destination town, he joins the stagecoach which is filled with a driver whos got a unique voice, a prostitute who has just been forced out of the previous town, a drunken doctor, a pregnant woman, a gambler, a liquor salesman and a crooked banker. Wayne gets a solid entrance after we have heard about him multiple times from other characters. Ringo Kid (Wayne) joins the stagecoach cos his horse has gone lame. He has to surrender his gun to the Marshall n will be arrested once they reach the destined town but our Ringo kid has to settle score with a trio of outlaws who killed his father n brother.
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Orson Welles liked it, I was... well... it was okay.
egp01djm8 October 2001
Orson Welles saw this movie 42 times. Then he made Citizen Kane.

I saw this film three times. Then I made a sandwich. Classical Hollywood Narrative in a Genre that refuses to die, the Western. Stagecoach is a movie which is begging to be remade as a sci-fi road movie, but has been poorly remade on so many occasions no studio would / should touch it. Its difficult to assess the movie in the twenty-first century - the pace seems laboured at time, the portrayal of natives seems crude, the climactic cavalry charge cliched. Perhaps because it created those cliches. Watch it, sure... but don't expect to come away with Citizen Kane under your belt. I'll eat my sandwich, and watch it another thirty-nine times.
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Setting the Stage.
tfrizzell30 April 2004
"Grand Hotel"-styled Western that puts nine very different people together on the titled vehicle to go across some very dangerous Indian territory. There is convict John Wayne (in his star-making role), scorned prostitute Claire Trevor, drunken doctor Thomas Mitchell (in a well-deserved Oscar-winning role), slick gambler John Carradine, pregnant youngster Louise Platt, shady banker Berton Churchill, whiskey salesman Donald Meek, lawman George Bancroft and driver Andy Devine on this star-studded ride. Soon the characters are turned from would-be stereotypes to very complicated three-dimensional figures that are all deep and humanistic. "Stagecoach" does not only benefit from its actors and screenplay though as legendary director John Ford (Oscar-nominated) shows his ability to mix and mesh quiet, heartfelt moments with amazingly detailed action sequences that were way ahead of their time. A great picture from arguably the cinema's finest single year of films. 5 stars out of 5.
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Not just a great western but one of the best movies ever made.
davekirkpat210584 March 2002
Stagecoach has all the hallmarks of a truly great film.The characters,the direction, the camera work, the scenery, the soundtrack. The story may seem simple but the characters are skillfully developed and colorful. They are real and interesting, not cliches. The desert setting and the stagecoach itself serve to make the great directing and camera work even greater. So many classic scenes in one movie. There are lot of little things like the shot of the coyote howling in the desert night. The shot of the stagecoach from behind going through a sand wash. The shot of the Indians on the hill looking down at the stagecoach. They look real and they look serious. The shot of the "Ringo Kid" watching Mr. Hatfield die.The "Kid" does'nt say a word but you can tell he's thinking about his murdered brother. The very first shot of John Wayne in his very first "A" movie may be his most memorable. Even if you've never seen Stagecoach you have seen that scene of the "Ringo Kid" holding his rifle and saddle while waving down the stage with the Monument Valley as a backdrop. No actor ever had a more spectacular debut. When you here the soundtrack, you can't help thinking about the Old West. John Ford should have won the Oscar for best director. His attention to details make this movie a classic. Classic in the sense that Stagecoach does'nt seem manufactured but seems like something that always was.
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A Western with a timeless appeal; one of the few essential Ford/Wayne collaborations
MisterWhiplash15 July 2000
This film is not exactly a matured western, as it does show and (may or may not) endorse the conventional slaying of the battling natives by gunfire and such. But it shows how much a western can change in time, yet still have an appeal with its story elements, character, and especially with its style. An American classic nevertheless with director John Ford bringing his valley in Arizona which he would later use with star John Wayne in The Searchers and She wore a Yellow Ribbon, among others for himself as director, to the film of the tale of a group of people all stuck together on a stagecoach. After reading the short story from which the film is based on, some of the characters made sense, but they are still very much casted perfectly. New star John Wayne is in one these kinds of iconic performances that only got as good as with the Searchers. Plus there is Oscar winner Thomas Mitchell as a drunken, but not stupid, doctor. Very memorable as character study and as a pure action Western as well. As far as the style goes, the long-touted rumor that Orson Welles watched this film 40 times before directing Citizen Kane only makes the experience more enjoyable.
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A great western thanks to the characters
bob the moo26 December 2003
A stagecoach sets out across the desert with a load of passengers, looking to catch up with a military unit and drop off the wife of the officer in charge. All the other passengers have their own reasons for getting to the destination, including a vengeful outlaw, a prostitute, a drunken doctor and a cad. However the journey is made incredibly hazardous by the fact that Geronimo is on the warpath in the area they must pass through.

Although I miss seeing the desert landscape in full yellows and blues, this film is one of my favourite westerns and only suffers a little by being in black & while and not really enjoying the visual sweep that later Ford westerns had. The plot is quite simple on one hand - a group battle Indians on their way to a town while some of the characters confront their own battles. However this succeeds because it is more than just a B-movie shoot'em up, it has characters and sub plot.

The characters may be quite broad and the film may well use them like a disaster movie (set them up just enough to care about and then see who gets knocked down) but it does have touches that improve it. Characters are shunned due to their social status, `good' people are revealed to be not so good as they think themselves while `bad' people reveal themselves to have good hearts and the potential for redemption in their lives. While it isn't earth shattering it is well crafted and well written in the context of the traditional western.

Wayne is good and this film allowed him to step up from B-movie westerns to the type of films that made his career. The rest of the cast are also good in their various roles, while the characters are broad they all play it well, especially Trevor, Devine, Mitchell and Carradine.

Overall this is a solid western that has good action (include a great stunt that was lifted directly into Raiders of the Lost Ark) but also has characters and interactions which make for a polished and enjoyable movie.
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StaticScreen9 October 2011
Well, I'm not a big fan of western films (Although Stagecoach is one of the few western films I have actually seen. So, I found the whole movie and story to be a little uninteresting. I guess westerns aren't for everybody. I did, however think there was excellent camera-work during the movie. Varied shots and angles giving us views from many different peoples perspectives. The coordination during the Indian fight scene was pretty well done. The Doctor (played by Thomas Mitchell, who I almost immediately recognized from the movie It's a Wonderful Life)was pretty entertaining, the other characters were dry. That's not saying anything towards the actors, I just think this movie wasn't really entertaining. Maybe western film fans might see the beauty in this one, but for me it fell flat.
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First adult Western with interesting character studio perfectly played by an excellent plethora of actors
ma-cortes28 October 2008
Classy Western dealing with a motley crew of roles in a cross-country coach beset by Indians and thieves . A voyage throughout Arizona with varied group of characters , a strange assortment of individuals formed by a prostitute (Claire Trevor, who received top-billing) , a coward swank (Donald Meek) , a crooked card-player (John Carradine) turned into protector to pregnant young wife (Louis Platt) , a philosopher alcoholic doctor (Thomas Mitchell , deservedly winner Oscar) , a swindler banker (Barton Churchill) , a sheriff (George Bancroft), a sympathetic coach driver (Andy Devine) and , of course , Ringo Kid (John Wayne , who arose his career languishing in Poverty Row) . The motley crew pull off a journey through Indian territory passing Apache Wells and towards Lordsburg . At the beginning they're protected by a military detachment commanded by a brave lieutenant (Tim Holt). Ringo Kid is an outlaw looking for to revenge the killing his father and brother by the Plummer brothers (Tom Tyler) . The stagecoach is besieged by Apaches and several dangers.....

The first pairing of Ford and Wayne changed the course of the modern Western turning into adult Western , portraying in depth characters and brooding events with allegorical issues running beneath surface script . But the movie's little budget looked cash well spent when this classic picture earned more than two million dollars on first exhibitions . Based on the story 'Stage to Lordsburg' by Ernest Haycox and this one based on Guy de Mauspassant's novel . Outstanding cinematography capturing the nebulous skies by Bert Glennon and Ray Binger . Thrilling as well as sensitive soundtrack by Richard Hageman based on traditional music . Slick edition by Dorothy Spencer , a woman with a long career during fifty years . Stunning shooting by John Ford in the mythical Monumental Valley , a place that Ford was often to revisit and he befriended Indians tribes . The film won Academy Award for secondary actor , Thomas Mitchell , original musical score and was nominated to best movie for Walter Wanger and major studio , United Artists ; furthermore, for edition and Production Design . Very inferior remake in 1966 by Gordon Douglas with Alex Cord , Anne Margret , Red Buttons , Van Johnson , Mike Connors ; and a forgettable adaptation for TV in 1986 by Ted Post with Willie Nelson , Johnny Cash , Elizabeth Ashley , Mary Crosby , Tony Franciosa , John Schneider and Kris Kristopherson.
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Dallas and The Ringo Kid -- Awesome!
MadReviewer13 May 2001
`Stagecoach' isn't so much a traditional Western as it is a forefather to the modern disaster film (with Apache warriors being the `disaster'). In many ways, the film is closer in style to `The Towering Inferno' than to `True Grit', but it's undeniably a great film, one of John Wayne's best. It's a simple story, really -- eight strangers, each with their own secrets and emotional baggage, are passengers on an Arizona stagecoach going from the town of Tonto to the city of Lordsburg, despite the looming threat of imminent Apache attacks. Along the way, the stagecoach comes across the Ringo Kid (John Wayne), who's just broken out of prison -- he's looking to go to Lordsburg as well, to avenge the death of his kid brother. He joins the passengers to Lordsburg, and during the journey, in one way or another, most of the passengers wind up learning something about themselves -- and wind up fighting Indians as well.

Hokey? Not really -- the story's quite good, and for the most part, the acting's wonderful. John Wayne's great as the Ringo Kid -- this actually may be one of his best Western roles. The Ringo Kid is a murderer, looking to avenge his family, but he's also a fairly principled man. The role's a lot deeper and more complex than some of Wayne's later `white hat' heroes who were always perfectly good and flawless. The Ringo Kid wants a normal life, but at the same time knows he'll probably never have one, and John Wayne pulls off this internal conflict flawlessly. Wayne also has great chemistry with the wonderful Claire Trevor, who plays Dallas, the former lady-of-the-evening -- she's also seeking to create a new life, and the uncomfortable, almost shy way she reacts to Wayne's gentle, genuinely polite comments is terrific to watch. Like the Ringo Kid -- indeed, like most of the characters in `Stagecoach' -- Dallas wants to change her life around, but doubts that she can. The other characters in `Stagecoach' are excellent as well, but it's Claire Trevor and John Wayne who really make the film enjoyable. (Side note -- while he's quite good, I was shocked to read that John Mitchell actually won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Dr. Josiah Boone in this film. His character's essentially a cross between W.C. Fields and Yoda, and while I'm not sure who else was in contention for the Best Supporting Actor award with Mr. Mitchell, I find it hard to believe that this was, in fact, the best supporting performance captured on film in the year 1939.)

John Ford's direction is excellent as well. `Stagecoach' is the first film where Mr. Ford used the breathtaking landscapes of Monument Valley, and even in black-and-white, they're still used to vivid effect. His action shots of an Apache attack and war raid are also stunning, even by today's standards. Ford also has great touch with changing moods in `Stagecoach' -- the film moves effortlessly from light comedy to tear-jerking drama, and the changes of mood never seem contrived. `Stagecoach' is clearly one of John Ford's better films.

Does `Stagecoach' have problems? Yes, but most of them are more a by-product of the customs and conventions of filmmaking in the 1930s. For example, the music is often obtrusive, and doesn't always fit with what's actually happening in a given scene. There's also not a lot of time spent exploring the character's backgrounds -- it would've been nice to know lot more about where the characters had come from (particularly Dallas), if only to help understand each character's motivations. Since this can be said about most films made during this era, it' somewhat forgivable. However, one significant flaw of `Stagecoach' itself is the character of Hatfield (John Carradine) -- while Mr. Carradine does a good job with the part, the character constantly contradicts himself. He behaves one way in one scene, then in a completely different manner in the next, and there's never a reason given for this. Add to this that Hatfield adds next to nothing in the film (his only useful purpose, apparently, is to ask Mrs. Platt (Lucy Mallory) `Are you all right?' every thirty seconds), and he becomes totally superfluous. If the part of Hatfield had been excised entirely from the script, "Stagecoach" would have been much better.

`Stagecoach' is not a typical Western (there's a lot more character introspection going on than blazing six-shooters), but it's an extremely entertaining film nonetheless. The memorable interaction between John Wayne and Claire Trevor alone makes it a near-classic. Grade: A-
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FilmSnobby25 July 2004
For some reason, 1939 has been proclaimed "Hollywood's greatest year". I doubt that, but the year IS important if only because John Ford released his mythic *Stagecoach* in the midst of the surrounding Technicolor sap 'n' pap (*Gone With the Wind*, *Wizard of Oz*, etc.). In fact, *Stagecoach* firmly gets my vote for the best Western John Ford ever made. Unlike the current critics' darling, *The Searchers*, this movie doesn't depend solely on John Wayne to save it from self-parody and/or pretension. In 1939, Monument Valley wasn't a cliche, yet. (As it was by 1956, when *The Searchers* came out.) The whore-with-the-heart-of-gold, the Southern-gentleman-who-is-handy-with-a-gun, the overeducated-drunk-who-can-be-counted-on-in-a-pinch, and naturally the honorable-gunslinger weren't cinematic cliches yet, either. For that matter, John Wayne wasn't a cliche, yet. Therefore, if you can forget the 6 or 7 decades of baggage that trailed after this movie, baggage that has turned up not just in Westerns but in other genres such as film noir and romantic comedies and "disaster epics", then the freshness of *Stagecoach* becomes readily apparent.

Oddly enough, the movie seems at first to be a cowboy spoof of *Grand Hotel* in the manner in which it throws together its 7 archetypal characters into the stagecoach for the long journey to Lordsburg. But soon enough Ford creates his own archetypes, like John Wayne emerging from the desert, alone, carrying his saddle like some epic hero. And there's the magnificent setting itself, empty and unforgiving and beautiful. Unfortunately, Ford would come to rely on Monument Valley to convey "significance", but here it seems at once incidental and yet integral to the plot. *Stagecoach* ultimately comes to feel like the birthing of our great mythos, both of our understanding of our nation's expansion and of the importance of our 20th-century entertainers. Even the characters' names have been burned into our consciousness (Ringo Kid, Stella Dallas, Doc Boone). And this is the movie that made John Wayne the indispensable American hero, a role he easily carried for 4 decades.

Above and beyond all this, the movie also features one of the all-time great chases in cinema: the breakneck race across the salt-flats, with Wayne expertly wielding his shotgun, keeping Geronimo's hordes from getting too close. Watch for some death-defying stunt-work as Wayne's character leaps from harness-to-harness along the team-of-eight . . . then consider how cheaply it would be done today, with computer imaging and choppy editing. Ford delivered action the old-fashioned way: he made his stunt-players EARN it, keeping an unblinking camera on them the whole way. Superb.
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The start of all westerns
Michael Rice14 March 2014
Stagecoach, compared to any amount of western films would seem almost bland and stereotypical. All of the characters are exactly what you'd expect, a lead female without fault, a kind-hearted prostitute, a greedy banker, and John Wayne being John Wayne. It takes place in the wild west and there's a constant threat of attacking native Americans. There's guns and saloons. It's all very... generic. However, Stagecoach gets credit where credit is due, as it is THE western film to base all western films on and because it helped make John Wayne become a success. The story consists of three parts, a buildup, and action packed climax, and a wrap-up ending. Without going into plot details, the buildup focuses entirely on character development. At the time, this would be great, no one has seen these character tropes before. Now it almost seems excessive. I found myself bored for a good portion of the intro simply because the film establishes well defined character tropes for half the film. After making it through the character build-up phase the film picks up quite a bit and is over all quite enjoyable. Also John Wayne never said 'Pilgrim", which was a little disappointing.
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hate it
f-madany17 December 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Western that's crack full the worst stereotypes and racial negative views of Native Americans of the 1930s, like that scene were the coach is being chased by Native Americans. There is literally five to seven minute clips of nothing but Indians getting shot off their horses and trampled. Like for real. Any redeeming qualities they move had went to hell after that. The prostitute is being shunned and kicked out of town, and the supposed gentle man and lady treat her as if she is dirt at the bottom of their boots, why I bet you all the money in my wallet right now, the man has paid for a prostitute or two at one point in his life. I'm glad he dies. I used to like westerns, but this movie has killed off a bit of that like. Even the end was predictable. The only thing could about this movie is the gathering of strangers from different walks off life, and trapping them together. Novel idea. Shitty movie.
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"classic" western unappreciated
j-catanzaro8 October 2011
I image most of the reviews for this film are going to be constructive and say nice things. This one is not. I'll start by saying I'm not a fan of westerns in any capacity, so if you are a fan disregard what I have to say. It's not because the movie is old, there are many even older than Stagecoach that are better. This film was just too dry. I'd estimate the entire first half of the movie is almost exclusively dialogue with very little happening. 6 (?) strangers, few of whom are endearing to the viewer (I'm looking at you, Lucy Mallory), embark on a stagecoach journey to a near-by town but get derailed along the way. With much of the movie being strictly dialogue I found myself unable to become interested in what was going on. You may say I'm just a naive youth who doesn't appreciate the genius behind this particular film and don't respect the original's, and we as audiences have been spoiled cinematically with flashy, over the top films of recent making it hard for us to enjoy simple old goodness like stagecoach. That isn't true, I just cannot force myself to sit and watch 6 people talk without interest. Many of the characters were flat, predictable people (I'm looking at you, Andy Devine, or Buck) and the comic relief felt so incredible forced and dry. There are redeeming qualities, however, as Doc Boone surprises us all with a very nice and insightful piece of food for thought toward the end of the film. Overall, this movie does not work without John Wayne, he is the only one who was able to keep me remotely interested, as he draws energy and life into his part. THE MOVIE DOES NOT WORK WITHOUT JOHN WAYNE. Sorry for yelling, I just wanted to make that clear. If you can tolerate 6 people talking for an hour before things start to happen, giddy'up. Not my cup of tea.
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Childhood Revisited
tabbyharwood21 October 2014
Warning: Spoilers
As a child my father would watch John Wayne movies over and over and at that time being a little girl I wasn't interested in those types of movies so I never watched them. It wasn't until my boys were growing up and into cowboys and Indians that I saw my first John Wayne movie.

John Ford is one of America's most important directors and pretty much made John Wayne a star. Stagecoach is a movie about a journey cross the West for a group of people with different agendas. None of these individuals have anything in common at first until the journey develops into a need of survival so they all come together over the course of their voyage.

The use of the moving camera from the beginning of the film to the end gives you great visuals and details of the characters and the situations happening within the film.

The use of the different characters changes throughout the film and we see that people are not as they seem on the outside. A prostitute with a heart of gold, a well respected woman is actually pregnant, a doctor is an alcoholic and a convict (Ringo Kid) is actually on a mission of revenge but at the same trying to keep everyone safe.

The use of off camera sounds gives us a different visual of what is going on in the film. For example the ending scene of when you hear shooting you don't know exactly who gets shot until the survivor appears out of the dim lighting.

A brilliantly directed movie of western outlaws and crime turns into a love story. I wish that I watched more John Wayne movies as a child.
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Even better than advertised
mlevans16 January 2003
Warning: Spoilers
If John Ford's Stagecoach is clichéd today, it is merely because it set the standard for `A' Westerns in 1939. That many of Stagecoach's attributes eventually became cliché simply speaks for the importance and the elegant simplicity of the film.

I had intended to see Stagecoach for years. This, in fact, was one of the few times I actually read several IMDb reviews of the movie before seeing it. Ford's classic definitely met or surpassed all of my expectations. I came away with a strangely fulfilled feeling after watching it. Much of the plot, shooting style and other devises were so familiar to me (from later duplication if not outright plagiarism) that one corner of my brain occasionally complained `This is a tad corny.' Yet the bulk of my brain came away immensely satisfied-as if I had just enjoyed a favorite desert, alamode. My best explanation for this is that Ford's film simply WORKS. It worked in 1939 and it does in 2003. That, of course, is why so many other Westerns and other movies borrowed so heavily from it. It set a standard that held sway for more than a quarter of a century.

What is so good about Stagecoach? Plenty. Ford combines just enough action with strong character development, solid dialogue and outstanding cinematography, to piece together a very satisfying 96 minutes of entertainment. Those unable to comprehend that a film made in 1939 and set (by my best estimation) in 1880 is not going to be played out in 1999 politically-correct sensitivity, naturally cry long and hard-as they do with nearly all pre-1990 films. Other than `Get a life,' I have no real comment to direct at this group. To those others, who fail to see anything above the ordinary here, I suggest an additional viewing. It may not be Hollywood's best film of the 1930s-or even the legendary year of 1939 for that matter, but it is a true Hollywood classic.


Set in the Arizona Territory, probably in 1880, (The Longstar newspaper editor noted that the Republican National Convention was in Chicago at that time, making it 1868, 1880, 1884 or 1888. Considering the apparent age of the Civil War veterans and Geronimo's activities, 1880 would be my best guess.) the film has a simple, linear plot. A private stagecoach tries to make it from Tonto to Lordsburg, despite the ominous threat of the legendary Geronimo going on the warpath. Soldiers are promised as an escort, but are later reassigned, when more pressing dangers arise. The stage forges ahead, unprotected, and eventually faces the Indian attack everyone has feared. Inside the coach, nine individuals are gelling into a somewhat cohesive mini-community. As some posters have noted, Ford was good at building characters that were deeply developed, yet still managed to represent an entire class or group of people.

The ensemble cast is outstanding, with John Wayne bursting on the scene with a strong and likeable performance as the Ringo Kid. Claire Trevor, Oscar-winning Thomas Mitchell, David Caradine, George Meek, Burton Churchill and Louis Platt, along with Andy Devine and George Bancroft are believable and for the most part likeable.

Without rehashing every aspect of the plot, I will comment on the Caradine character, which has bothered and/or stumped some viewers. Hatfield, at first called `a notorious gambler' and `certainly no gentleman,' certainly perceives himself to be an old style southern gentleman. He seems to prove that he really is-at least when he is in the inspiring presence of a real southern belle like Lucy Mallory (Platt). Of course Hatfield turns out not to be the lecherous wolf we assume he is. Rather, he is a loyal ex-Confederate solider who fought under Mrs. Mallory's father. Apparently recognizing the now-grown Lucy, he decides she needs protection on the voyage. I personally do not find this sudden show of loyalty/chivalry out of character-despite Hatfield's recent activities.

The most fascinating and riveting scene for me-and one I have seen no other reviewer accurately pontificate upon-is the climactic moment in the Indian fight when the ammunition supply has been exhausted. We have sensed that the `good guys' have a slight chance of surviving, thanks to the good shooting of Wayne, Caradine, Bancroft and even Mitchell. Now, however, the ammo is gone and only a fraction of the attackers have been dealt with. Hatfield finds one lone bullet in his chamber. Apparently envisioning likely rape and torture for Mrs. Mallory-as well as her possibly being forced to witness her baby's murder, he faces a titanic moral dilemma and then puts his gun to the head of the praying woman. Before he can perform this apparent `mercy killing,' though, an Indian bullet hits HIM. Moments later, Mrs. Mallory closes her prayer and seems to be deliriously imagining a bugle call. Of course it isn't her imagination and the first of the ever-present just-in-the-nick-of-time U.S. Cavalry charges of Western fare quickly saves the day.

Other than Hatfield apparently dying, everything is wrapped up smoothly and happily. (One hopes SOMEone takes poor Mr. Peacock up on his invitations to visit his wife and himself in Kansas City, KS. Since no one can seem to remember his name correctly, however, this seems unlikely!) Of course Ringo and Dallas ride off into the panoramic Ford sunset, `safe from the blessings of civilization' and wise enough not to let social stigmas hinder their love for each other. For Ford, Wayne and the modern Western, of course, the end was really the beginning.
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"Well, I guess you can't break out of prison and into society in the same week."
john-hogan239 October 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Stagecoach marks the first collaboration between director John Ford and actor John Wayne. The film tells the story of nine people embarking on a dangerous journey through Apache territory on, you guessed it, a stagecoach. The cramped interior of the stagecoach forces its passengers to interact and deal with each other in ways made unique by their situation. The film has some memorable characters and a thrilling climactic chase scene, but overall left me with a bitter impression of John Ford as a director.

Stagecoach struck me as the sort of film that did too much in too little time. Thinking back to the events of the film feels like a hurricane of underdevelopment. The problem with having nine people on the stagecoach is that it never allowed most of them to become anything more than a totally flat character. In my opinion the banker, Peacock, the gentleman type gambler guy whose name I cannot even recall, Lucy Mallory, and Dallas all felt very one-dimensional. This is particularly troubling because Dallas is supposed to be the main love interest and her character didn't seem to extend anywhere beyond "the love interest." The other four characters were good. Doc Brown was alright but not what I would consider to be Oscar worthy, John Wayne was John Wayne, so either you're thrilled by his performances or don't care for him at all, but the thing about this film that surprised me most was the characters I thought were the best. The sheriff and the stagecoach driver really stood out. They were played so excellently that their actors took the sort of flat characters they were given and turned them into something worth watching. Were the performances of two secondary characters enough to carry the film for me? No, but they certainly put forth a gallant effort.

I gave the film a 5 out of 10 not because I liked it enough to warrant a 5, but because I noticed and understood that there were parts of the film that were very well done. That being said, I hated it. It sickened me. Cowboys versus Indians type westerns disgust me to no end. The way the films so often portray their native American antagonists is absurd and bigoted, with Stagecoach being no exception. I do come from a place of bias, I was raised by a proud Native American mother, so I realize I'm taking more offense to this than the average viewer, but that doesn't change the fact that John Ford must have had an ignorant and hateful view of these people. The truth is "Geronimo" was a real man named Goyathlay, and he did lead revenge attacks after Mexican soldiers murdered his mother, wife, and three children. Geronimo was a name given to him by Mexican soldiers, so a good number of people at the time of this film's release would have recognized him as a real person, but John Ford just relies on the Native American tribal killer stereotype to make him a threatening villain in the film, no other substance is given to the antagonist.
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Idiotic and Tiresome Cartoon Warning: Spoilers
Stagecoach (1939) I have long heard about how great this film was so I finally purchased it and watched it. Starting out, I was startled at how stupid, meaningless and moronic it was. It was like watching a depression era Cartoon. Presented are a bunch of idiotic, tiresome, "civilized" people chatting about nothing in particular. Once they get on the Stagecoach it's no better, their self-righteous attitude, which comes across in the director's and script writers' intents, are much to stomach. You have a prejudiced, aristocratic dandy (John Carradine), a dumb as nails loner (John Wayne), a gullible, understanding prostitute, a vile corrupt banker, a smug small-minded "preacher", an inane drunk doctor, an annoying sanctimonious "lady" (who is pregnant) and a few other dimwits, all riding on the Stagecoach, ever fearful of the "evil Indian" attack. They talk about the most frivolous rubbish ever imagined. All of the characters are entirely irksome. Scenes proceed from A to B without any story, good dialogue or interest.

The Apache are played by Navajo Indians (or a Mexican woman in ranch scene) in close ups and by blatant white stunt men in the horse shots. Of course, as expected, since this is filmed by a virulent, white bigoted Director, financed by a greedy studio and written by calloused short-sighted, studio stable script writers, it is no surprise that the Apache are played off as a hostile threat to the grand white civilized lifestyle (if you have a brain, you will observe that the 'grand white civilized lifestyle' is nothing but a bunch of loathing drunks who shoot each other). You will notice that the Apache are so inept that they can't even stop a Stagecoach, and are shot by the rabble riding in said Stagecoach, who never run out of bullets and put down about 55 of the attacking Apache in one of the most shallow, impalpable scenes ever imagined. If you are wondering how the Apache stopped Stagecoaches, all they had to do was shoot one horse. The Apache, by that time, having been reduced to being a poor starving band of corralled slaves, imprisoned, murdered by the US government and it's hostile citizens, were fighting for survival at that point. Instead, they are called "savages" and made to resemble sub-human scum. Having lived with the Apache myself, I realize that they have a rich culture, are deeply spiritual and had a love for their land.

If you can get past all the inept portrayals and ostensible characters, which if you are intelligent, is impossible to forgive, then at least you can enjoy a narrative but Stagecoach lacks that as well. John Ford doesn't even give us a palpable story. All that is left is cheap 1930's gimmicky cutouts, as John Wayne instantly falls in love with ostracized prostitute, kills all bad guys, then everything is fine.

After Stagecoach (1939) was over I was left questioning all the misleading "great" reviews. I burned my copy as it has no value whatsoever, not even as average entertainment.

Stagecoach goes nowhere.
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'Stagecoach' Is A Dated Snoozer
ccthemovieman-130 May 2007
Being such a highly-rated film, I was very disappointed when I first saw this movie on VHS in the 1990s. I expected more action, for one thing, especially for a western. This film was more like a soap opera. The only action scene in this 96-minute "action-packed western" was at the end, and that looked really hokey. (Special-effects weren't the most realistic- looking in the late '30s.)

Then again, loudmouth drunks always annoy me, so Thomas Mitchell's portrayal of "Doc Boone" did not enhance the viewing experience for me. Mitchell played a lot of those roles. It's pretty sad the drunk in this film was a doctor!

While the film looks very dated, as a whole, we do get a bunch of stereotyped characters that have been around on film for decades, like the prostitute with the heart of gold and the crooked barker (not Bob) while the nice girl is dull.

Reportedly, this film made John Wayne a star. He played "The Ringo Kid." Well, I'm glad for him; he was a fine actor.

As he did with his later westerns, director John Ford gave us some nice looks at Monument Valley. That photography was the best part of this very overrated oater.
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