Stagecoach (John Ford, 1939)

The perilous adventures of a group aboard a stagecoach across Indian country during a sudden Apache uprising; 9 passengers are placed together in a position of danger, one position in which their true characters are tested and revealed. A motley assemblage of social types where the most atractives are the outcasts and misfits. All bring with them their own problems and motivations. Major social issues and themes like sexual and social prejudice, alcoholism, childbirth, greed, shame, redemption and revenge are closely mixed together into an exciting adventure story, plenty of humor, drama, and brilliant social commentary.
The structure of the film is very formal, divided neatly into 8 episodes (4 scenes of action alternating with 4 scenes of character interaction):
1. The short prologue regarding the cavalry and the telegraph messages.
2. The expository sequence in the town of Tonto, including the introduction of most of the characters and the establishment of their class distinctions.
In this film - actually a morality play, each of the characters are representative, archetypal character types, divided initially between respectable and disrespectable social outcasts. However by film's end, the disreputable members of society prove to be the most noble, virtuous, and selfless.
- A prostitute, Dallas, forced to leave town by the Ladies Moral League (a women's false piety group).
- John Wayne is The Ringo Kid, a young rancher (cowboy) , who has recently broken out of jail (he had been wrongly accuse of a crime). He is on his way to Lordsburg to avenge both the false accusations and more importantly, the murder of his father and brother.
When Stagecoach was being cast, director John Ford lobbied hard for John Wayne (instead Gary Cooper). Ford understood Wayne's limitations as an actor and created a specific rol for him. In the process, Wayne learned that being a Western star depended as much upon what you don't say as what you do say (like Clint Eastwood, Wayne often best served his characters through a minimum of words). In Stagecoach, Ford frequently simply focuses the camera on Wayne's face. - Thomas Mitchell (in an Academy Award-winning performance) plays the alcoholic doctor, Doc Boone, being run out of town by the sheriff.
- A pregnant young wife traveling to see her husband (an Army officer); she's in a surprisingly "secret" physical state. She´s a well-educated southern woman.
- John Carradine as Hatfield plays a Confederate gambler, a card shark with a shady reputation and a false identity (former Confederate officer).
- Gatewood is a crooked (dishonest) banker trying to flee before his questionable dealings are discovered.
- Samuel Peacock, whom everyone keeps mistaking for a reverend, is a whiskey salesman and just wants to get back to his business.
- The town sheriff Marshall Curly Wilcox, who rides shotgun with Buck, the stagecoach driver, a lovable buffoon.
3. The first leg of the trip on the stagecoach to Lordsburg, New Mexico. They encounter a cavalry detachment, which informs them that Geronimo and his Apache warriors are on the warpath, that the telegraph line is dead, and that they will not be able to escort the stagecoach all the way. Along the way, they pick up the Ringo Kid. [One of the favorite movie shots of all time: a rifle shot is heard and the camera quickly tracks in on the Ringo Kid as he twirls his winchester rifle in one hand as a signal for the stagecoach to stop and pick him up: “Hold it!”. The camera rapidly tracks in on his face.
4. The Dry Fork way station where the coach stops for food - includes a memorable dinner table scene. They discover that the soldiers who were supposed to escort them further have had to leave. They decide to go forward and reach Apache Wells in the evening.

5. The second leg of the trip toward Apache Wells in the snow.
6. The Apache Wells (Mexican) outpost, where Lucy's baby is born. After hearing her husband had been wounded in battle, Lucy faints. Dallas attends her briefly before coming out and requesting "Hot water, and lots of it!" Doc Boone is called to sober up and help Lucy through her childbirth. Eventually Dallas emerges holding Lucy's newborn child. Later that night, Ringo asks Dallas to marry him, saying that he saw the look in her eyes when she held the baby and telling her that he has a fine ranch "across the border". Dallas believes that Ringo would not be proposing to her if he knew her past, and she leaves without giving him an answer. The next morning, however, she agrees to marry Ringo if he escapes instead of going to Lordsburg to fight the Plummers (she is convinced that the Plummers will kill him). Then Ringo makes a break for it, but turns back when he sees signs of nearby Indians.
7. The final leg of the trip to Lordsburg, including the exciting Indian attack and the cavalry rescue. The stagecoach hurries to leave, but the Indians chase after them. A long chase in which Hatfield is killed and Peacock injured. Just as they run out of ammunition, the U.S. cavalry comes to the rescue.
8. The town of Lordsburg, where Ringo Kid faces the Plummers in a shoot-out. The rest of the passengers make it safely into town. Gatewood is arrested by the local sheriff for escaping with bank money. Lucy is told her husband's wound was not serious, and Dallas hands the baby over to local townswomen who look down on her and do not approve of her caring for the the baby or Lucy. Dallas begs Ringo not to go up against the Plummers, but he is determined to settle matters.
People has always been attracted to characters with shady pasts who have chosen to reform their ways (usually as a result of romantic love). Here we have a double act of reformation in the relationship between Dallas and Ringo: in the climatic scene, Dallas waits while Ringo and outlaw Luke Plummer face-off in a showdown. Her entire future rests in the balance: if he doesn't return, she will no doubt return to prostitution, and if he does return, Dallas and Ringo will restart their lives on his small ranch. Director Ford expertly plays with our expectations in this scene: Ringo approaches Luke Plummer and his two brothers, and when te shoot-out begins Ford cuts away. Instead of showing us the action scene, Ford takes us back to the darkened street, where Dallas waits, half out of her mind in fear of what might be happening to Ringo. At the ending, Ringo returns to Marshall Curly, expecting to go back to jail; he asks the lawman to take Dallas to his ranch. When he gets on a wagon to say goodbye to her, Curly and Doc laughingly start the horses moving, letting him "escape". It ends with:
Doc Boone: Well, they're saved from the blessings of civilization.
Curley: Yeah. (Curley removes his sheriff's badge.) Doc? I'll buy ya a drink.
Doc Boone: (After a long pause) Just one.

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