"Well, there are some things a man just can't run away from."Stagecoach
is a classic 1939 Western
directed by the legendary John Ford
, and John Wayne
's first major role. The story involves a disparate group of travelers—a prostitute (Claire Trevor), an alcoholic doctor (veteran character actor Thomas Mitchell), a pregnant army wife, a fugitive under arrest (Wayne), and others—who all wind up on the same stagecoach traveling from Tonto, Arizona Territory to Lordsburg, New Mexico Territory. Besides having their own secrets, burdens, and crimes to deal with, they have to worry about Geronimo and the Apaches, who are on the warpath.
John Wayne had previously appeared in some 80 B pictures; most studio executives were vehemently opposed to casting him in a major film, but John Ford (whose first sound
Western this was to be) insisted on Wayne. (Notably, the actor was paid far less than any of his co-stars except for John Carradine
.) Ford, well known for abusing his cast and crew, reportedly brutalized Wayne to screw an effective performance out of him — and succeeded. This film also marked the first time that Ford would shoot in Monument Valley, Utah
, the site that would become his favorite setting and almost a trademark of his films.
The film was remade
in 1966 by director Gavin Douglas, with Alex Cord replacing Wayne as the Ringo Kid, Bing Crosby
as Doc Boone, Red Buttons
as Peacock, Stephanie Powers
as Mrs. Mallory, Mike Connors as Hatfield, Robert Cummings as Gatewood, Van Heflin as Curley, Slim Pickens
as Buck, and Ann-Margret as Dallas. Despite an improved script (the Gatewood subplot is particularly satisfyingly tied in to the Ringo plot, with Keenan Wynn
's delightfully nasty Luke Plummer being fatally hired by the defaulting banker) and a remarkably strong showing by Crosby, the film is killed dead by a leaden performance by Cord. Ultimately the most memorable aspects of this remake are the portraits done of the cast in-character
by Norman Rockwell
Many decades later, two brothers who were fans of this movie would be inspired to write their own "survivors escape from Hellish Wilderness" story, complete with a sympathetic criminal and a bounty hunter in place of a Marshal.
The rest, as they say, is History
Stagecoach provides examples of the following tropes:
- Adaptation Distillation: The movie draws inspiration from "Boule de Suif", a short story by Guy De Maupassant. The story is a social critique of French passengers trying to flee a hot spot in the French-Prussian War, and where one of the passengers (a jovial well-meaning prostitute) is forced to have sex with a Prussian officer to help the coach passengers escape. The movie changes the setting, removes the degradation of the prostitute, but leaves the social critique pretty much intact (with a karmic punishment for the crooked banker). A more direct source of the movie was "The Stage to Lordsburg" by Ernest Haycox, which had a "bare-bones plot". Ford merged it with de Maupassant's story to add more characterization.
- The Alcoholic: Thomas Mitchell earned his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for being convincingly alcoholic as Doc Boone. By movie's end - having proved himself a good doctor - he's hinting at cutting back on the whiskey...
- Bait-and-Switch Gunshot: Hatfield's gun touches Mrs. Mallory, gunshot is heard... and Hatfield's hand crawls back as he dies (then again, the gun didn't smoke or anything).
- Bottomless Magazines: Sort of. The passengers fire more times than they should be able to and then all run out of ammo at once.
- Card Games: Used when Hatfield cuts the cards to decide whether to go on to Lordsburg, and again for Foreshadowing when Luke Plummer is dealt the "dead man's hand" while playing poker. Ford loves using the Aces and Eights to foreshadow doom.
- The Cavalry: Out chasing Apaches. They swoop in to save the stagecoach just before the Apaches kill them all.
- Dead Man's Hand: Luke holds this hand. He is shortly thereafter gunned down by the Ringo Kid.
- The Gambler: Hatfield, who seems to do this for a living.
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: They don't come nicer than Dallas. Apparently she was forced into prostitution after her parents died when she was a child.
- Jerk Ass: Gatewood is obnoxious to everyone.
- Mercy Kill: When the Indians seem like they're about to overwhelm the stagecoach, Hatfield plans to use his last bullet to shoot Mrs. Mallory to save her a grisly fate. Fortunately, The Cavalry and a well-timed Indian bullet for Hatfield save her instead.
- Moral Guardians: The "Law and Order League", which seems to consist of a bunch of mean old ladies, kicks Dallas out of Tonto.
- Revenge: The Kid's motivation to get to Lordsburg. The Plummers killed his father and brother.
- Running Gag: No one can seem to remember Mr. Peacock's name.
- The Savage Indian: Local Navajo Indians were enlisted to play the part of the bloodthirsty Apaches.
- Sour Prudes: The "respectable" women who hate Dallas and force her to leave town. Also Lucy Mallory to some extent, who is barely able to express any gratitude to Dallas for delivering her baby and taking care of her afterwards.
- Southern Gentleman: Hatfield. He's more gambler than gentleman, though.
- Standard Snippet: Par for the course in a John Ford movie, but probably used more here than in any other. By one count, the score uses seventeen folk and popular songs from the era, some as leitmotifs, for instance I Dream of Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair for Mrs. Mallory.
- Star-Making Role: John Wayne had been a bit player and B-movie actor for nearly a decade before this film made him a huge star.
- Ford had known Wayne for some time and had become friends with him, but refused to cast him in any of his movies until he was sure Wayne was ready for it. Ford got ahold of this script and figured Wayne was ready for it.
- Stealing from the Till: Henry Gatewood jumps on the stagecoach with $50,000 he's stolen from the bank. Apparently he's been at it a while, as he mentions that a bank examiner is coming to look at his books.
- The Trope Kid: The Ringo Kid
- U.S. Marshal: Wilcox, who is taking the Ringo Kid in.
- The Wild West