Some actors find stardom right out of the chute. Some toil for years before making a name for themselves. John Wayne, one of the biggest movie stars of all time, falls into the toil category. He made dozens of pictures (many of them in the silent era) before finally breaking out with a star turn in director John Ford’s influential western Stagecoach.
The story is rather simple. The Ringo Kid (Wayne) joins an eclectic group of people travelling from Arizona to New Mexico by horse and buggy through Monument Valley in 1880. In a racist shot at Native Americans, Apaches (including superstar Geronimo) are always on the warpath, even gunning for our stagecoach filled with these ordinary people. After the cavalry detachment pulls away its escort, the coach is ripe for Indian attack.
Claire Trevor has an important role as Dallas, the prostitute kicked out of the town in Arizona for *horrors* being immoral. Fortunately, she makes a friend in the Ringo Kid. She’s also got just as much character as any other person on the stagecoach. Thomas Mitchell won an Oscar for his supporting role as an alcoholic doc. John Carradine also shows up as an enigmatic Southerner.
Ford’s direction is outstanding as he shoots his first sound western and also sets the story in his beloved Monument Valley. The camera-work and camera placement are wonderful, especially considering how much of this picture was shot on location. Why the film would rank 63rd on the American Film Institute’s 1998 Top List and then not make the 2007 version at all is a mystery. Maybe it isn’t one of the greatest movies ever made, but it’s awfully solid. Just go back in time and ask The Duke. He’d tell you it was one of the most important things to ever happen to him.