Directed by John Ford
Claire Trevor as Dallas
John Wayne as Ringo Kid
Andy Devine as Buck
John Carradine as Hatfield
Thomas Mitchell as Doc Josiah Boone
Louise Platt as Lucy Mallory
George Bancroft as Marshal 'Curley' Wilcox
Donald Meek as Peacock
Berton Churchill as Gatewood
Tim Holt as Lieutenant Blanchard
Tom Tyler as Luke Plummer
Traveling by stagecoach has brought together a group of varied individuals that may never have come into contact any other way, and in many cases forces them to work together for survival. This is the story of one such band of travelers and their adventures. Stagecoach driver Buck is assembling passengers for his trip east out of Tonto, Arizona, to arrive in Lordsburg, New Mexico. The band of passengers includes Dallas, a prostitute who has been drummed out of town by the local temperance movement called the “Law and Order League”; Doc Boone, a doctor who has given over to drink and become the town drunk; Lucy Mallory, the pregnant wife of a cavalry soldier who is going to join him; Samuel Peacock, who is a whiskey salesman. Local Marshal Curly Wilcox joins the stagecoach riding shotgun when he hears that Luke Plummer is in Lordsburg. Luke Plummer is the target of an outlaw known as the Ringo Kid, who the marshal is hunting. Marshal Wilcox knows that the Ringo Kid is hunting the Plummers because they killed his father and brother, so he figures if he can find the Plummers, the Ringo Kid will show up as well. Before the stagecoach can leave, they get a warning from U.S. Cavalry Lieutenant Blanchard that Geronimo and the Apaches are on the warpath across their route and to be careful. Blanchard agrees to provide a cavalry escort as far as the town of Dry Fork, where they should be able to procure an escort for the rest of the trip. The stagecoach is also joined by two other travelers; Hatfield, a southern gentleman and gambler who has a crush on Lucy and joins to ensure her safety, and Henry Gatewood, a respected banker who unbeknownst to the others is carrying a bag of $50,000 he has stolen from his bank.
Shortly out of town they come across the Ringo Kid, whose horse has fallen lame and left him traveling on foot. Although Curley knows and respects the Kid, he takes him into custody and places him in handcuffs in the stagecoach. Dallas and the Kid begin to grow closer, nurtured by the fact that they are both ostracized from society.
When the stagecoach pulls in at Dry Fork, they discover that their escort has been ordered on to Apache Wells. Buck asks whether the passengers want to continue or turn back and they vote, with only Peacock voting to turn back. Forging ahead, they continue to travel and reach Apache Wells. There Lucy faints when she learns that her husband has been wounded and begins to go into labor. Doc Boone is called on to deliver the baby, and Dallas assists him, soon delivering a healthy baby. Dallas and Ringo discuss their future and Ringo proposes to Dallas. Afraid that Ringo will not want her if he discovers her past, she does not respond at first, but in the morning answers that she will marry him if he gives up his crusade against the Plummers. Encouraged by Dallas, Ringo plans to escape and make his way to his ranch across the border, and makes it a short distance, when he spots Apache war signals. Realizing that Dallas and the rest of the passengers on the stagecoach are in danger, he returns.
The stagecoach continues on, reaching the river crossing of Lee’s Ferry without incident. However, they discover the crossing abandoned, with several dead indicating that the crossing had been attacked by the Apaches. They come up with a plan to use large logs as pontoons and float the stagecoach across the river . Believing that the Apaches remained on the other side of the river , the stagecoach continues on to Lordsburg. Just when the passengers believe themselves to be home free, the Apache’s attack! Buck convinces the marshal to remove Ringo’s handcuffs so he can help fight off the Indians. During the battle, Hatfield is killed by the Indians. After a long chase that is beginning to look bleak, the stagecoach is rescued when the 6th Cavalry rides in to save the day.
Upon arriving in Lordsburg, the local sheriff arrests the banker Gatewood for embezzling, Lucy is relieved to discover that her husband’s wounds are not severe, and Ringo sets out to find the Plummers despite Dallas’ pleas. Ringo confronts his family’s murderers and fulfills his pledge for vengeance in a dramatic shootout. Afterwards, he returns to Curly and Buck, believing they are taking him back to jail, however, they pull away as he is saying goodbye to Dallas, letting the Kid “escape” again.
Stagecoach was the film that turned John Wayne into a star.
Ford and Wayne had a very close working relationship spanning over 50 years that yielded some of the great classics in John Wayne’s career. It is not disputed that John Ford played a great role in making John Wayne the iconic star that he still is today. Ford gave Wayne his breakthrough role in Stagecoach, in which Ford won Academy awards for both Best Picture, and Best Director. Films that Ford and Wayne made together include, Stagecoach, The Long Voyage Home , They Were Expendable , 3 Godfathers, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon , Rio Grande , The Quiet Man , The Searchers, The Wings of Eagles , The Horse Soldiers, The Alamo , The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, How the West Was Won and concluding with Donovan's Reef.
Stagecoach is an adaptation of the short story “The Stage to Lordsburg” by Ernest Hayox. The story was published in Collier’s Magazine on April 10th, 1937, and John Ford bought the rights shortly after. Ford mentioned that he expanded on the plot with ideas gleaned from another short story, “Boule de Suif” by Guy de Maupassant.
Although Ford discovered Wayne playing football at UCLA (along with long time Wayne co-star Ward Bond), Ford did not cast Wayne in any films in the 1930s, telling Wayne he was waiting for the right script. In the meantime Wayne was learning the acting ropes and developing his chops in a series of B-westerns. Ford presented Wayne with the script and asked Wayne to recommend an actor to play the role of the Ringo Kid. Wayne recommended Lloyd Nolan for the part. When Ford stated that he wanted Wayne to play the role, Wayne stated he felt as if he had been “hit in the belly with a baseball bat.”
Ford was so insistent the Wayne play the lead in the movie that he had a hard time finding financing for the film. Wayne had only been in one other major budget western at the time, The Big Trail (1930), which flopped at the box office. It also did not help that westerns had gotten a reputation as b-budget productions and was not something that major picture studios thought would succeed. Finally Ford found a financer in Walter Wanger, who initially insisted that the main role be played by Gary Cooper, and that Marlene Dietrich play Dallas. However, Ford was insistent and Wanger eventually relented, as long as Ford gave top billing to Claire Trevor who was much better known than Wayne at the time.
Stagecoach has been considered the most influential movie ever made. Orson Wells stated that it was a perfect textbook of filmmaking and is said to have watched it over 40 times while he was making Citizen Kane.
There have been two remakes of Stagecoach, one in 1966 staring Ann Margret, Red Buttons, Bing Crosby and Slim Pickens, and one in 1986 staring country music legends Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings.
Stagecoach is one of many of John Ford’s films shot in picturesque Monument Valley, Arizona. Others include; My Darling Clementine, Fort Apache , She Wore A Yellow Ribbon , Wagon Master, Rio Grande , The Searchers, Sergeant Rutledge and Cheyenne Autumn.
Stagecoach was Ford’s first western with sound. All of his previous westerns had been filmed in the silent film era.
As in later Ford films, local Navajo tribes played the Apaches for the film. Although it provided jobs and much needed income for the reservation, the Indians did not know that they were supposed to be playing Apaches. Hosten Tso, a local Navajo shaman, promised John Ford that he would have the cloud formations that he wanted. Ford was impressed when they appeared.
Originally Ward Bond was to play the stagecoach driver Buck, but Bond didn’t know how to drive that type of stagecoach and there wasn’t time to teach him, so the role went to Andy Devine.
John Wayne provided his own hat for the film. After his success in Stagecoach, it became his lucky hat and he would wear it in most of his westerns before retiring it after shooting Rio Bravo in 1959.
Near the end of the movie, Luke Plummer is holding the notorious Dead Man’s hand of a pair of black aces and a pair of black eights. The hand earned its name as it is supposedly the hand being held by Wild Bill Hickok when he was killed.
Although Republic agreed to loan Wayne to United Artists for the film, Republic had to postpone work on its series of Three Mesquiteers films for six weeks while Stagecoach was filmed.
Stagecoach marks the first of three films that paired John Wayne and Claire Trevor as romantic leads between 1939 and 1940.
To make the shootings on horseback appear more spectacular, the use of a device called the Running W was utilized. This was basically a wire attached to a fixed metal post in the ground and attached to a clamp around the legs of the horse. The horse was then ridden at full gallop and when the extent of the wire was reached the horses legs were yanked out from underneath them, giving the illusion of having been shot. Many horses were wounded and had to be killed using this method. Eventually complaints of cruelty put an end to this practice, and eventually lead to the statement “No animals were harmed in the making of this film” being included in the credits of films.