Tuesday, July 6, 2010


I have always been a fan of "road films." The type of film revolving around a group of people taking, what seems like, a simple trip from point A to point B. Wild Strawberries, Badlands, Wild at Heart, Pieces of April, Deconstructing Harry, and Y Tu Mama Tambien are all perfect examples of the classic "road film."

I had seen Stagecoach in a high school film studies class. I remember being annoyed to learn I would have to watch a Western for the class. I grew up stuck in my grandfather's living room while he watched Western after Western at every family function. The music was always so painful to the ears. The Mexicans were always made to look like idiots. And, the women were always portrayed as whores or uptight saints. There was something so simple and simple minded about Westerns. Even as a child I saw through this hateful stereotyping.

After watching Stagecoach I was surprised by how John Ford was still committed to these stereotypes, but able to find growth and purposefulness in these characters. I remember enjoying Stagecoach in that high school film course. So, this weekend, I rented the Criterion re-release of this classic film. I was pleasantly surprised to discover I still really enjoy the film.

The film begins with a town ridding itself of the black sheep of the town. An alcoholic doctor and the town whore. The town is shipping them off on a stagecoach with two upper levels of society. Ford has created a tiny chasm inside of a tiny stagecoach. By time the stagecoach is ready to leave town... a banker, a gambler, a whore, a doctor, a US Marshal, an outlaw, an army wife, and a gin distiller.

Ford does an incredible job of building suspense. From the very start one is waiting to discover what is waiting for these travelers. How will their relationships with one another change by the films end? And, will they all survive? As in all Westerns, the battle between cowboy and Indian is always at the films climax. But, in this film, the battle isn't quite the same as other Westerns. There is something more mature about this film and the way the battle is handled.

There are a lot of emotions and motives at play throughout the film. In fact, so many, I feel many of them are overlooked. For instance, the scene when the gambler is going to kill the army wife to save her from possible rape of Indians... how does the gambler love her so much? Is it really love? And, why is the army wife so quick to go mad?

It is rumored Orson Welles watched this film many times before creating Citizen Kane. This is proof to the incredible work of Ford and the film's actors.


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