Stagecoach

AFI Rank: #63
Year Released: 1939
Director: John Ford
Actors: John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Andy Devine, John Carradine, Thomas Mitchell

Westerns now seem almost cliche as a genre. But in 1939, when John Ford presented Stagecoach, westerns were a bright, new star on the horizon. And Ford made not only a western, but a classic all-around fantastic movie that was awarded the #63 spot on the AFI top 100.

Stagecoach is brilliant in so many ways. First, the premise is well done. An unusual combination of characters comes together to ride in a small stagecoach. We've got the drunken doctor, the confederate gambler, the lady-of-the-night, the uptight soldier's wife, and so on. Everyone has a distinct personality and reason for being there. Then suddenly there's an outlaw ... and then suddenly there are Indians. The situation keeps ratcheting higher.

The western landscapes are just so gorgeous. This wasn't done on an artificial set. You can see the real scenery expanding in the background. I've been out to Monument valley and it is simply spectacular to be there. Seeing the movie made me want to go out again - and also made me appreciate what it was before the modern world approached. I do have to comment that it seemed that the stagecoach must have "circled around" to keep being near Monument Valley several times in the movie's sequence. I suppose that's the down side of it being so recognizable, that you know it when you see it. Repeatedly.

There's all sorts of intricate touches interwoven here. The way Trevor (wayward lady) is dismissed by the others, then taken under wing by Wayne. The way Platt (uptight wife) is first haughty, protected by the gambler, but then it's revealed that she's actually nine months pregnant and that's why she's anxious about reaching her husband in time. And, in an amazing feat especially for a movie from 1939, it actually has two women talking to each other! The vast majority of AFI movies fail this simple test, but Stagecoach pulls it off. So extra kudos here.

So many "classic" movies feel dated, faded, or simply archaic when viewed in modern times. We appreciate them for "how they made progress" but to our modern eyes they are full of issues. Stagecoach, quite impressively, is just as powerful now as it must have been then. The storyline draws us in. The acting is stellar. The landscapes are beautiful. Sure, you could say "the film quality isn't excellent" - but to me that hardly mars the fullness of what the movie offers. There are so many later movies I could name that can't meet up to the high standards set here. And that's a true testament to how powerful a classic Stagecoach is, and to the high quality of the actors chosen.

Definitely a must-watch for anybody who enjoys a good movie. This isn't just about "liking westerns" - it's about liking a well done story.

Highly recommended.

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