STAGECOACH (1939)

   Claire Trevor, John Wayne, John Carradine, Tim Holt, Tom Tyler, Louise Platt, Thomas Mitchell, John Ford (director)
   By the late 1930s Westerns had fallen out of favor with major studios and there was talk once again that the Western genre was dead. The poverty rowstudios were still producing plenty of cheap material, but the Western seemed relegated to the past. John Ford’s Stagecoach, along with several other good A Westerns produced in 1939, seemed to change the trend and showed how the best of the B Westerns could be made into quality Westerns. Ford took a rather ordinary short story by pulp writer Ernest Haycox; constructed a set in Monument Valley, Utah; brought together an ensemble cast, many of whom acted regularly in B Westerns; and produced what many have considered the most perfect Western of all time. Certainly, it is one of the most important.
   The plot works around a standard formula of several characters, all with individual problems, getting on the stage for one last trip to Lordsburg before it gets too dangerous to travel due to an Apache uprising. Along the way they pick up a fugitive from prison, the Ringo Kid (Wayne), who is to be returned to jail, but who also hopes to shoot it out with Luke Plummer (Tyler) when he gets to Lordsburg. The characters are all stereotyped, and standard values of perceived morality are overturned. The town’s most distinguished citizen, the banker, is on the run with a bag of embezzled cash. The prostitute (Trevor) becomes the savior of the righteous new bride (Platt). The drunken doctor (Mitchell) sobers up and delivers a baby in an emergency. The sheriff respects the outlaw and allows the outlaw and the prostitute to escape and head to Mexico at the film’s end. Although John Ford had a long career behind him already, Stagecoachwas the real beginning of what would be perhaps the most successful director’s career in the history of cinema Westerns. In the same way, John Wayne had a long list of film credits behind him, but this film moved him to the top ranks of Hollywood stardom. Thomas Mitchell won an Academy Award for supporting actor, and altogether, Stagecoach was nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning four of them.
   See also CLASSIC WESTERN' FORMULAS.

Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. . 2012.

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