A big cast might seem hard to follow or care about but Ford gives us just enough of each character to lure us into caring while never confusing us in their part of the journey. We want to know more about each and can’t wait to learn their fate after the stagecoach ride. The suspense and tension build as the stagecoach nears its destination of Lordsburg and the Apaches of Geronimo attack. We also have the tale of our cowboy’s feud with those who wronged him and had him locked away. Not only does Ford give us a thrilling Indian battle but a good ol’ shootout to boot.
Sounds clichéd and overplayed, doesn’t it? Ford knew that and spins his tale with action, humor, and drama in a way that makes it all fresh and new while setting the mark for all westerns that followed. This isn’t a Sunday-matinee B-western; Ford takes the clichés of the genre and makes them interesting. He used the camera, his actors, and the setting of Monument Valley to tell this old tale in a unique way with the directorial choices he made. He boldly announces the cavalry with blaring trumpets. The shoot-out is quick and mostly takes place off-camera. We are given the outcome of both plain as day yet each in a different way.
Ford would make two big connections while filming Stagecoach. One was Monument Valley to which he returned many times, and the other was his wonderful, lifelong friendship with star John Wayne. Ford announces the actor to the big time with the well-known, introductory shot of a zooming, slightly out of focus close-up. Those two men along with the awesome desert setting would make many more great westerns together.
The people at Criterion have done a fantastic job once again with this two-disc set. Disc one is a newly restored, high-definition digital transfer of the film and a good audio commentary by western authority Jim Kitses. Disc two holds all the great extras. Bucking Broadway is an early silent western by Ford, which is a simple story of a cowboy gone to the big city to get his girl back. There is a good interview with Ford from 1968 that’s over an hour long as well as five great featurettes ranging in run time from ten to twenty minutes. There’s a segment with Peter Bogdanovich who knew Ford and Wayne well, clips of Ford’s home movies with commentary by his grandson Dan Ford, and a video essay by Tag Gallagher on Ford’s visual style in Stagecoach. All are very interesting and shed a world of light and knowledge this classic.