The year 1939 was one of the greatest in film history. In addition to such enduring classics as Gone With The Wind and The Wizard Of Oz, it also saw the appearance of the first modern western, John Ford's Stagecoach. The film is a masterpiece, featuring a flawlessly structured storyline and some of the most visually stunning images ever.
Stagecoach was the first, and some would say best, collaboration between director John Ford and actor John Wayne. It was the film that turned Wayne into a superstar, as well as being the first the director would make in Monument Valley. The imposing, nearly Biblical rock formations that distinguish the Northern Arizona landscape of the Valley have become famous in their own right as the archetypal representation of the look of the Old West.
Stagecoach tells the story of nine very different strangers who take a perilous trip through hostile Apache territory. While the picture contains a fair amount of action, especially during the running battle with the Apaches, the focus is primarily psychological.
The diverse group of passengers includes the easygoing driver (Andy Devine), an alcoholic doctor (Thomas Mitchell), a doomed gambler (John Carradine), a crooked banker (Berton Church), and the Doc's new best friend, a mild-mannered whiskey salesman (Donald Meek). There are also two women aboard. Louise Pratt plays a very prim and very pregnant lady whole husband is in the Cavalry. The biggest name (at the time) and nominal star of the film is Claire Trevor, who plays the typical "hooker with a heart of gold."
They are led by a sheriff (George Bancroft) who is escorting escaped convict Ringo Kid (John Wayne) to prison in Lordsburg. Ringo's interest in going to Lordsburg is vengeance — he plans to confront the three men who killed his father and brother there.
At every stop the coach makes, ominous warnings about Geronimo and the Apaches are voiced. The promised military escort never arrives, and the group are forced to fend for themselves.
They also begin to grow and change as their circumstances get more and more dangerous. The first big test comes when young Lucy Mallory goes into labor. Doc Boone must sober up quickly to help her deliver the baby, while Dallas, who she had previously shunned, is called upon to act as nurse. Meanwhile, Dallas and Ringo have fallen for each other, a romance that seems to be doomed based on what lies in store for him in Lordsburg.
Criterion has done an outstanding job of presenting Stagecoach here. Although the original negative has been considered lost for years, they were able to track down an excellent print. This has been meticulously cleaned up for transfer to DVD.