The first recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film is the 1939 John Ford/John Wayne classic, Stagecoach.
Wayne plays the Ringo Kid, and he and a number of fellow travellers including Dallas (Claire Trevor) and Lucy Mallory (Louise Platt), a drunk doctor Josiah Boone (Thomas Mitchell), and a dangerous gambler, Hatfield (John Carradine)find their cross country journey in peril when they learn that Geronimo is on the warpath.
Shot in black and white, the film is entertaining, though lacks the beauty (there are some nice location shots – but lack the power they would have in colour and cinema-scope) and scope of Ford’s later films. Instead the film focuses rater nicely on the characters, as they get to know one another, and debate the threat of the imminent attack by Geronimo.
The entire trip is overseen by the coach driver, Buck (iconic Andy Devine) who provides some light comedy relief, while shepherding his charges across dangerous lands.
Ringo and Dallas seem to hit it off, and all the other characters get their moments as they all travel together. There are, of course, a variety of opinions, beliefs, and even social classes within the tiny coach. Each of them has their own reason for making the trip, as well as motivations that keep them there.
There are surprises and revelations, some of them good, some bad – medical emergencies, trouble every way they turn, and odds, seemingly, increasingly stacked against them. Yet, all of them are determined to reach their final destination.
Wayne’s character is a bit of a rogue, he’s broken out of prison, been arrested again, and we learn that the Law is doing this to protect him from stumbling between the gunsights of Luke Plummer (Tom Tyler), his nemesis.
As the film progresses, all the passengers form relationships with one another, working together as needed so that by the time the attack comes, they are ready for it, and defend themselves with aplomb.
While set in the Old West, and definitely visiting some of the expected tropes one would find in a Western, this film is more akin to a character piece, and less about the big rolling skies, gunfights, and derring-do, that seem to highlight some of the earliest Westerns.
It’s a solid film, and sees some fine character moments, but it wasn’t what I was expecting in terms of a Western – especially when one thinks of the name John Wayne. Consequently, I was pleasantly surprised by it, and enjoyed it greatly.