Give me a good Western anyday. I will drop everything and watch it. So it was that a few evenings ago, I sat up straight on my couch and realized that I had never watched Stagecoach. I had caught bits and pieces of it but had never watched the entire movie. Guess what? I don't have cable and YouTube had Stagecoach.
Stagecoach (the movie) moves swiftly. From the moment the stage arrives in a dusty little town to pick up some new passengers and make its way out to far off Lordsburg, the screenplay moves swiftly. The Apaches are on the warpath. But an Army patrol, that leaves the little town around the same time as the stage does, could only accompany the stage part of the way. So there is a discernible amount of tension as the threat of an Apache attack always hangs in the air. This tension would have been enough to keep the audience's level of alertness high. But what is a Western without howling "Indians"?
"What about the other lady?"
Romances aren't usually given that much importance in Hollywood's early Westerns, which by their very nature were vehicles for portraying gunfights and showdowns between cowboys and Indians, outlaws and sheriffs, cowboys and outlaws and any combination of manly men. In Stagecoach, the romance is significant enough without being a standout. And surprisingly there aren't that many gunfights. The emphasis seems to be on presenting individual characters and their responses to various situations.
Speaking of characters, I have to say that John Wayne's introduction scene, close to 2/3rds of the way into the movie, was indeed dramatic. It is the kind of scene that can make a star. Stagecoach was the vehicle that catapulted the formerly bit part actor to film stardom. By the time John Ford cast Wayne in Stagecoach, the Duke had been working in the film industry for around a dozen years doing stunt work and playing an extra. And that just might be why Wayne, like Clint Eastwood continues to, persisted in the industry as long as he did: He was a working actor before he became a star.
This is a short movie by today's standards. Stagecoach does a fantastic job of padding that time between when you have to cook dinner and get to bed on an otherwise dreary, unconvincing Spring evening in New England.