"Stagecoach" DVD, Blu-ray Review

5/27/2010 Posted by Admin

DVD, Blu-ray Review


Directed by John Ford, Written by Dudley Nichols and Ben Hecht, 96 minutes, Not Rated

By our guest blogger, Rob Stammitti

Basically the definitive Western of its era, "Stagecoach" introduced audiences to many of the genre's biggest motifs--the ensemble, the anti-hero, the final shoot-out, the "cowboys and Indians" conflicts, the epic travel balanced with the small-town feel--"Stagecoach" has it all, and more importantly, it introduced the man who would become the one true Western icon of the '40s and '50s, John Wayne.

Directed by the first true master of the Western, John Ford, "Stagecoach" follows a ragtag group heading on an east-bound Stagecoach for various ends. Dallas (Claire Trevor) has been driven out of town by a local justice group for prostitution. Doc Boone (Thomas Mitchell) is getting run out of town for his alcoholism. He's accompanied by whiskey salesman Samuel Peacock (Donald Meek). Lucy Mallory (Louise Platte), joined by an infamous gambler, Hatfield (John Carradine), is going to meet her cavalry husband. The group is rounded out by the stagecoach driver, Buck (Andy Devine) and the local Marshal, Curly Wilcox (George Bancroft).

The group finds themselves with an extra passenger, however, when they come upon an escaped convict and troublemaker by the name of the Ringo Kid (John Wayne), who has lost his horse and joins the stagecoach despite being told he'll be brought in to the police when they reach their destination.

This large group of actors makes for some really wonderful moments, especially in the less action-based scenes where the group just sits in the stagecoach and polar opposites like Dallas and Mallory are forced to interact. It doesn't hurt that the performances are generally quite solid, aside from Devine, who's mostly there for comedic relief and who is usually more aggravating than funny.

Where the film comes up short occasionally is mostly just due to its age. Though Ford himself stubbornly never admitted to it, his tone and style changed significantly later in his career to a far more pessimistic and violent Western that has probably had more effect on modern Westerns. Looking back at "Stagecoach," one can see the traditional Hollywood take on the genre was a lot more upbeat and more morally black and white than it would become and has remained today. One can't help but see the forced giddiness in the storytelling here, when a tale like this would likely be told with a lot more weight today, or even in the '60s and '70s when Leone took hold of the genre.

That's not really a fault of the film, though, and more just an inevitable consequence of technical and historical progress. It's a fine piece of entertainment, there's no doubt about that. Ford's direction is highly fluid and sophisticated, which is a miracle considering how long it had been since he'd tackled the genre (and this was the first time he'd made a sound Western). He's really an excellent visual storyteller, and everything we need to know about the characters is said through visuals as opposed to dull expository dialogue that a lot of older Westerns would employ. And as an introduction to John Wayne, the film is definitely a success. From the very moment the stagecoach screeches to a halt and the camera pans rapidly into his now iconic visage, you know this is someone to keep your eye out for.

It may not be the Western we all know and love today, but without it, the ones we love wouldn't even exist.

Grade: B-

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