“There are some things a man just can’t run away from.”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
Response to Peary’s Review:
I believe this was the film that sparked my admiration for character-actress Claire Trevor as a teenage film fanatic; I recall learning that she considered herself merely a “working stiff” in Hollywood, trying to survive as a single mother, and that I felt intense admiration for her no-nonsense approach to a notoriously ego-filled field. She’s top-billed among the ensemble cast here, and deserves this status, given that she’s the emotional glue holding the stagecoach passengers together. When Platt suddenly gives birth along the journey (during the film’s most heartfelt extended sequence), Trevor selflessly cares for the newborn while Platt recovers; and when she’s given the unprecedented opportunity (by Wayne) to turn her life around, she cares more about his safety than her own future. Speaking of Wayne, he’s never been more charismatic or appealing than he is here (as Peary points out, “What an entrance Ford gave him!”); and the rest of the “marvelously cast” supporting players — Mitchell, Meek, Carradine, unknown Platt, and others — are excellent as well. I especially like how nearly every character in the story is given an arc of some kind, and allowed to emerge by the film’s end as someone much more nuanced than we could ever have expected.
All this in a “mere” western! — one which, on the surface, seems like simply a conglomeration of conventional characters and situations, yet comes together so seamlessly it’s been studied as a masterwork by countless famed directors (most notably Orson Welles). Indeed, Stagecoach is an excellent example of a solid genre flick which simultaneously functions as a vehicle for deeper musings on human nature. To that end, Peary notes that “the coach serves as an arena for a clash between those who represent society” (the banker, the doctor, the married woman, and the salesman) and “those whom society considers outsiders” (the escaped prisoner, the prostitute, the gambler) — with nearly all the former passengers (the corrupt banker being a key exception) “won over” by the latter, and the driver and sheriff remaining “outside on the ride through the wilderness” (they represent “neutral figures who are part of civilization but have open minds towards those who don’t fit in”).
While I’m not generally a fan of Ford’s characteristic incorporation of humor throughout his films (usually in the form of buffoonish characters), in this case he uses humor as a starting point for some surprisingly heartwarming revelations: Mitchell’s tippling doctor, for instance, eventually sobers up enough to deliver Platt’s baby (and to be of genuine help during the pivotal, excitingly directed Indian attack); Meek may initially stand “meekly” by while Mitchell downs his supply, but he ultimately proves he’s more than merely a spineless sap; Devine’s whimpering ninny of a stagecoach driver keeps going despite his own worst fears (which come true); etc.
Regardless of whether one chooses to view this film as part of Ford’s broader oeuvre — or merely as an engaging flick in its own right — it remains a must-see classic, one worthy of multiple enjoyable visits.
Note: Interestingly, at the time he directed Stagecoach, Ford — who’s largely remembered these days for helming countless classic westerns — hadn’t made one in 13 years, since the silent western Three Bad Men (1926).
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)