Monday, March 22, 2010

Stagecoach 1939

If the previous film (the Shootist - see review) is John Wayne's entire career in one film, than this movie is the entire genre is one film.
It is excellent!
John Ford. John Wayne. Claire Trevor. Thomas Mitchell. Andy Devine. Donald Meek. Etc. This movie is jam packed with talent. John Ford put his iconic stamp on it. All you have to do is watch it, and you know it is his work. Especially his use of photographing the landscape. That is what makes this a western epic. Something I love about westerns is that it is a truly American genre. Its all ours.
Also keep in mind this year: 1939. The golden year of Hollywood. More epic, landmark films came out of the time than most other years. If nothing else, there is a grandeur about that year.
Something else you should know: this is the first time that Monumental Valley was featured in a picture. This piece of land is now known for its grandeur through classic western movie - and it is interesting to see the first time if was used - and to such wonderful effect. How yeah, and the stunts are freakin' amazing! Mostly done by one man. The other thing is some of the camera shots. First of all, the famous first entrance of Wayne in the film. You have to see it. It's brilliant. Ford did an amazing job on getting Wayne to be the center of the film. He was always cutting to Wayne to get his reaction - so you are incredibly in tune to what he thinks and how he feels - it's just brilliant. And then there is the run over the camera shot with the horses. I have a hard time thinking about how they got that shot without breaking the camera a couple times. Really, the work done on this film artistically is amazing.
This movie was a unique story for a western. It was much more fully developed than most of the B westerns made of the time. This is what was called the "psychological western" or "adult western" This movie takes a look at some social issues as well as the general good vs evil. But there is a twist there. You come to learn that no one is pure good or pure evil, which was really landmark for the time. Again, this is one of those put a mix of people in a small space kind of movie. Except the brilliant aspect is it isn't a small space, it is the wild west. Yes, in a stagecoach for most of it. But all of these people are bound together whether they want to be or not, on a journey.
Basically, you have the driver, the lawman (riding gun for the coach), a young army wife determined to join her husband, a dunken doctor and a scarlet woman who has been run out of town, a meek whiskey drummer, a banker with a secret, a young rebel, and a mysterious stranger whose reputation taints honorable intentions. A wonderful array of characters and actors to play them. The really interesting the similarities and differences between the ways each of the characters views honor and respect. The stranger's respect for the army wife is apparent, and he does all her can to make her comfortable from a southern sense of duty a gentleman owes a great lady. Which is wonderful, no doubt. But then you have people like Ringo and the doctor, who don't account for whether a woman is considered a lady or not, but treat them as such because they are women. Social prejudice plays are large role in this film - and that, above even the Apaches is the great obstacle these people face. Not the landscape, not the "savages" (yes, this movie is a bit prejudice in that way), but each other.
This story was so successful that it was remade several times. This version was nomiated for 7 Oscars, winning 2 of them. It is in the National Film Registry and on AFI's 10 Top 10 Genre list. How it is not honored beyond that floors me. However, it has gained its reputation of immense proportions over the years. Between the acting, the direction, and the wonderful camera work, it's a beautiful film.
It's a favorite of mine and if I could put more than 5 stars on, I would, but since we have limits:
5 out of 5 stars

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