A motley crew of men and women from the Old West, including the banished prostitute Dallas (Claire Trevor), alcoholic doctor Doc Boone (Thomas Mitchell), shady gambler Hatfield (John Carradine) and whisky salesman Sam Peacock (Donald Meek) travel together on their way to Lordsburg, New Mexico. On the way they pick up sympathetic outlaw The Ringo Kid (John Wayne, in his breakthrough role). But the path is packed with many dangers, from one of the members of the coach, Ms. Mallory (Louise Platt) going into labor and only a drunken doctor for assistant, to the threat of Indians. In Lordsburg, both Dallas and The Ringo Kid will meet their destiny together, or will they fall in the hands of vengeance.
There’s little I can say about John Ford that hasn’t been said already. He’s one of my favorite directors, one of my biggest influences in filmmaking ever since I saw his movies for the first time. This was one of the first I saw, thanks to having a father who adores westerns, and it always struck me as different. It came before his more cynical and darker westerns (Fort Apache, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, The Searchers), and is more upbeat and traditional in many ways. It still has a lot of what makes Ford great, from the landscapes to the way he handles actors. And as you can see, the cast features some of the most important character actors of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Still, the man who came out strong from this film is John Wayne, who owes this film for the way his career skyrocketed after. And why not? He is simply gorgeous, tall and strapping, a true gentleman and hero who does the right thing even in the worst kind of situations. Sure, it’s very black and white (Wayne good, Indians bad), but one has to remember that these were different times.
There is also a lot of suspense in the film. There is a 7-minute action sequence involving the stagecoach against an Indian attack that is staged perfectly and has some pretty kick-ass stunts. It’s very similar to the 9-minute action sequence between the truck against the marauders at the third act of Mad Max. The third act of this film, however, turns even darker and more dangerous, as John Wayne is forced to take out the criminals who framed him, even at the possible cost of losing the woman he loves in the process, Dallas. Both Claire Trevor and John Wayne have a lot of chemistry together, and it culminates in this scene. While not as complex or impactful as his later films, Stagecoach is still an important film in the Western genre, and it’s a damn good movie still. Very recommended.