Let me just get this out of the way, right away. I am 61 years old and not once in those 61 years have I ever looked as cool as John Wayne does in this black and white photo.
“Stagecoach” is a 1939, John Ford directed monster. It’s Wayne’s breakout role and early enough in his career that he’s not the “top of the poster” star — Claire Trevor is. They both do fantastic jobs in this movie, one that is easy to watch over and over. Dudley Nichols wrote the screenplay, based on Ernest Haycox’s 1937 short story “The Stage to Lordsburg.”
It’s a simple story. A group of men and women, some who know each other and some who don’t, wind up on the same stagecoach, traveling through Apache territory at a time when Geronimo is most definitely on the warpath. All of the regular Western characters are there — the prostitute, stuck-up Army wife, drunk town doctor, smarmy gambler, etc. — and John Wayne as the Ringo Kid. It’s so early in his career that he hasn’t even fully developed the iconic Wayne swagger, but from the moment Ford turns his camera on him, you can tell he’s going to be a star.
“Stagecoach” is beautifully shot in a number of locations, highlighted by the scenery in Monument Valley (on the Arizona/Utah border). We learn about each of the characters — liking some, maybe some not quite as much — and feeling as if we get to know them. Andy Devine plays Andy Devine (though they call him Buck in the movie), and as always, it’s just good old-fashioned fun to have him on film.
If you’ve never seen “Stagecoach,” change that now. If, and I’ll bet this is true for many of you reading this, you haven’t seen it in a long time, now’s the time to settle in for 96 minutes and have some fun.