I grew up on westerns. I grew up on John Wayne westerns. And yet I had somehow never seen this movie. In some ways, that’s a good thing. I saw it for the first time when I was definitely old enough to appreciate it. But I think I would have liked it just fine when I was ten. I know I would have liked it when I went through my John Wayne phase and tried to watch all his movies when I was fourteen. So while I won’t be suing my dad for neglect because he didn’t show me this movie, I feel like I missed a lot of years when I could have been enjoying this movie. And that’s too bad, because this is a great movie. I liked it so much that I half wanted to start it over again from the beginning as soon as it was over.
So what’s the story? Despite the passengers knowing that Geronimo and his people are on the warpath, a stagecoach full of people begins its journey. Each stop brings more bad news and hardship, yet the oddly-assorted group of passengers presses on, determined to reach their final destination.
The Good: This is the first time in this batch of movies that I’ve been very impressed by the cinematography. Stagecoach is such a beautiful movie. John Ford knew how to compose a shot and how to use gorgeous scenery to its best advantage.
I’ve been rhapsodizing about acting a lot these past couple weeks, and I’m going to keep on doing it. This was yet another well-acted movie from 1939. Everyone was perfect. Claire Trevor especially stood out to me as the “dance hall girl” who is getting run out of town. I thought Trevor did a very good job of showcasing Dallas’s humanity and desire to be seen as a person. I have always liked John Wayne, but I liked seeing him so young in this movie. He had a different kind of energy as a young man than he did as an older one. Neither one is better than the other; they’re just different. Thomas Mitchell as the doctor/town drunk was good, because Thomas Mitchell is always good, but when he stood up to Luke Plummer, he became superb. I’m also going to mention Andy Devine, mostly because Disney’s Robin Hood (1973) was my favorite Disney cartoon growing up, and it’s fun to hear Friar Tuck’s voice coming out of a real person’s mouth.
The Bad: I realize this movie was made in the 1930s, and I know that society’s mores have changed since then, but I live now, so I was a little bit unhappy with the portrayal of minorities, both the Native Americans and Hispanics. It’s definitely not the worst I’ve seen, and it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the movie, but I did catch myself wondering if I should enjoy a movie so much when it put forth the opinion that the white men had every right to live on Indian land if they felt like it.
The Ugly: I can’t think of one ugly thing in this movie. That’s unusual for me. But Stagecoach is just an excellent movie.
Oscars Won: Best actor in a supporting role (Thomas Mitchell); best music, scoring.
Other Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best director; best cinematography, black-and-white; best art direction; best film editing.