Stagecoach (1939 film): Wikis


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re-release film poster
Directed by John Ford
Produced by Walter Wanger (exec.)
Written by Ernest Haycox (story)
Dudley Nichols
Ben Hecht
Starring Claire Trevor
John Wayne
Thomas Mitchell
John Carradine
Andy Devine
George Bancroft
Music by Gerard Carbonara
Cinematography Bert Glennon
Editing by Otho Lovering
Dorothy Spencer
Walter Reynolds
Distributed by United Artists
Release date(s) February 15, 1939
Running time 96 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Stagecoach is a 1939 American Western film directed by John Ford, starring Claire Trevor and John Wayne in his breakthrough role. The screenplay, written by Dudley Nichols and Ben Hecht, is an adaptation of "The Stage to Lordsburg", a 1937 short story by Ernest Haycox. The film follows a group of strangers riding on a stagecoach through dangerous Apache territory.

Although Ford had made many westerns in the silent film era, he had never directed a sound western. Between 1929–1939, he directed films of almost every other genre, including Wee Willie Winkie (1937) starring Shirley Temple.[1] Stagecoach was to be his first sound western and the first of many that Ford made on location in Monument Valley, in the American southwest on the Arizona-Utah border, many of which also starred John Wayne.



In Tonto (town), Arizona Territory in 1880, a motley group of strangers boards the east-bound stagecoach to Lordsburg, New Mexico Territory. Among them are Dallas (Claire Trevor), a prostitute who is being driven out of town by the members of the "Law and Order League"; an alcoholic doctor, Doc Boone (Thomas Mitchell); Lucy Mallory (Louise Platt), who is traveling to see her cavalry officer husband; and whiskey salesman Samuel Peacock (Donald Meek).

When the stage driver, Buck (Andy Devine), looks for his normal shotgun guard, he is told by Marshal Curly Wilcox (George Bancroft) that he has gone out to look for a fugitive, the Ringo Kid (John Wayne). Buck tells Marshal Wilcox that Luke Plummer (Tom Tyler) is in Lordsburg. Knowing that the Kid has vowed to avenge the deaths of his father and brother at Plummer's hands, the marshal decides to ride along.

As they start to pull out, U.S. cavalry Lieutenant Blanchard (Tim Holt) informs them that Geronimo and his Apaches are on the warpath. His small troop will provide an escort until they get to Dry Fork. Gambler and Southern gentleman Hatfield (John Carradine) joins them to provide protection for Mrs. Mallory. At the edge of town, the stage is flagged down by pompous banker Henry Gatewood, (Berton Churchill), who is sneaking away with $50,000 embezzled from his bank.

Along the way, they come across the Ringo Kid, whose horse had become lame and left him afoot. Even though they are friends, Curly has no choice but to take Ringo into custody. As the trip progresses, Ringo takes a strong liking to Dallas.

When they reach Dry Fork, they are informed that the expected cavalry detachment has moved on to Apache Wells. The passengers vote on whether to press on or turn back. With only Peacock objecting, they go on and reach Apache Wells. There, Mrs. Mallory faints when she hears that her husband had been wounded in battle. She begins to go into labor. Doc Boone is called upon to help her through her childbirth. Eventually, Dallas emerges with a healthy baby. Later that night, Ringo asks Dallas to marry him. She does not give him an immediate answer, afraid to reveal her checkered past, but the next morning, she agrees to marry him if he promises to give up his plan to take on the Plummers. Encouraged by Dallas, Ringo makes a break for it, but turns back when he sees signs of Indians.

When they reach Lee's Ferry, they find the station and the ferry burned down and the people either dead or having fled. They tie large logs to each side of the stagecoach and float it across the river. Just when they think that they are in the clear, the stagecoach is chased by the Apaches. Curly releases the Kid from his handcuffs to help fight them off. During a long chase, when things look bleak, Hatfield is about to kill Mrs. Mallory with his last bullet to save her from being taken alive when he is fatally wounded. Just then, the U.S. cavalry charges to the rescue.

When the passengers finally arrive in Lordsburg, Gatewood is arrested by the local sheriff, and Lucy is told that her husband's wound is not serious. Dallas begs Ringo not to go up against the Plummers, but he is determined to settle matters. In the ensuing shootout, the Kid dispatches Luke and his two brothers. He returns to Wilcox, expecting to go back to jail. He asks the lawman to take Dallas to his ranch. However, when Ringo gets on a wagon to say goodbye to her, Curly and Doc laugh and start the horses moving, letting him "escape".



The screenplay is an adaptation by Dudley Nichols of "The Stage to Lordsburg", a short story by Ernest Haycox. The rights to "Lordsburg" were bought by John Ford soon after it was published in Collier's magazine on 10 April 1937.[2] According to Thomas Schatz, Ford claimed that his inspiration in expanding Stagecoach beyond the barebones plot given in "The Stage to Lordsburg" was his familiarity with another short story, "Boule de Suif" by Guy de Maupassant.[3] Schatz believes "this scarcely holds up to scrutiny"[4] and argues that a more likely inspiration was Bret Harte's 1892 short story "The Outcasts of Poker Flat".

Ford's statement also seems to be the basis for the claim that Haycox himself relied upon Guy de Maupassant's story. However, there appears to be no concrete evidence for Haycox actually being familiar with the earlier story, especially as he was documented as going out of his way to avoid reading the work of others that might unconsciously influence his writing, and he focused his personal reading in the area of history.[5]


Although they were close friends, Ford had declined to use Wayne in any of his projects during the 1930s, telling him to wait until he was "ready" as an actor. In 1938 he gave Wayne a copy of the film's script by Nichols, asking him to recommend an actor to play the Ringo Kid. After having read it, Wayne suggested Lloyd Nolan for the part, but Ford was non-committal to the idea. The next day however, Ford announced to Wayne that he wanted him to play the role. The offer left Wayne feeling as if he had been "hit in the belly with a baseball bat"...and fearing that Ford would change his mind and hire Nolan instead.

Before production, John Ford shopped the project around to several Hollywood studios, all of which turned him down because big budgets Westerns were out of vogue, and because Ford insisted on using John Wayne in a key role in the film. Wayne had appeared in only one big-budget western, The Big Trail (1930, directed by Raoul Walsh), which was a huge box office flop. Between 1930–1939, by Wayne's own estimate, he appeared in about eighty "Poverty Row" westerns. Independent producer David O. Selznick finally agreed to produce the film, but frustrated Ford with his indecisiveness over when shooting should begin, as well as Selznick's doubts over the casting. Ford withdrew the film from Selznick's company, then approached independent producer Walter Wanger about the project. Wanger had the same reservations about producing an "A" western and even more about one starring John Wayne. Ford had not directed a western since the silent days, the most notable of which had been The Iron Horse (1924).[1] Wanger said he would not risk his money unless Ford replaced John Wayne with Gary Cooper and brought in Marlene Dietrich to play Dallas.[6]

Ford refused to budge; it would be Wayne or no one. Eventually they compromised, with Wanger putting up $250,000, a little more than half of what Ford had been asking for, and Ford would give top billing to Claire Trevor, a far better-known name than John Wayne in 1939.[7]


Stagecoach has been lauded as one of the most influential films ever made. Edward Buscombe writes that the introduction of Wayne's character Ringo is "one of the most stunning entrances in all of cinema...The camera dollies quickly in towards a tight close-up...So fast is the dolly in that the operator can't quite hold the focus."[8] Orson Welles argued that it was a perfect textbook of film making and claimed to have watched it more than 40 times during the making of Citizen Kane.[9]

Awards and honors





  • John Ford won the 1939 New York Film Critics Award as Best Director. Other critics gave the film uniformly glowing reviews.[10]
  • In 1995, this film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in their National Film Registry.
  • In June 2008, the American Film Institute revealed its "Ten Top Ten"—the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Stagecoach was acknowledged as the ninth best film in the western genre.[11][12]

Re-releases and restoration

The film was originally released through United Artists, but under their old seven-year-rights rule, surrendered its distribution rights to producer Walter Wanger in 1946. Many independent companies were responsible for this film in the years since. The film's copyright is currently held by 20th Century Fox, who produced a later 1966 remake of Stagecoach. However, distribution rights are now held by the UCLA Film and Television Archive on behalf of ancillary rights holder The Caidin Trust, with Castle Hill Productions and Warner Bros. Pictures representing.

The original negatives of Stagecoach were either lost or destroyed. John Wayne had one positive print that had never been through a projector gate. In 1970, he permitted it to be used to produce a new negative, and that is the film seen today at film festivals.[13] UCLA formally restored the film in 1996 from surviving elements and premiered on cable's American Movie Classics network. The current DVD releases by Warner Home Video do not contain the restored print, but rather a video print held in the Castle Hill/Caidin Trust library.


See also


  1. ^ a b Clooney, Nick (November 2002). The Movies That Changed Us: Reflections on the Screen. New York: Atria Books, a trademark of Simon & Schuster. p. 194. ISBN 0-7434-1043-2. 
  2. ^ Ernest Haycox, Jr., Ernest Haycox (1899-1950), Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission, 2001. Accessed 2007-04-17.
  3. ^ Schatz, Thomas, "Stagecoach and Hollywood's A-Western Renaissance", in John Ford's Stagecoach, ed. Barry Keigh Grant. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003. pp. 21-47. ISBN 0-521-7933119.
  4. ^ Schatz, p. 27.
  5. ^ Ernest Haycox, Jr., Ernest Haycox (1899-1950).
  6. ^ Clooney, pp. 196-197.
  7. ^ Clooney, p. 197.
  8. ^ Edward Buscombe, "Stagecoach", British Film Institute, 1992, p. 9.
  9. ^ Welles, Orson and Bogdanovich, Peter, This is Orson Welles, Da Capo Press, 1998, pp. 28-29. "After dinner every night for about a month, I'd run Stagecoach.... It was like going to school."
  10. ^ Clooney, p. 203.
  11. ^ American Film Institute (2008-06-17). "AFI Crowns Top 10 Films in 10 Classic Genres". Retrieved 2008-06-18. 
  12. ^ "Top Western". American Film Institute. Retrieved 2008-06-18. 
  13. ^ Clooney, p. 191.

External links


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