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STAGECOACH, 1939
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STAGECOACHMOVIESTAGECOACH, 1939
Movie Reviews

Directed by John Ford

Starring: John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Andy Devine, John Carradine, Tim Holt, Thomas Mitchell, Louise Platt

Review by Matthew Toffolo

SYNOPSIS:

A simple stagecoach trip is complicated by the fact that Geronimo is on the warpath in the area. The passengers on the coach include a a drunken doctor, two women, a bank manager who has taken off with his client's money, and the famous Ringo Kid, among others.

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REVIEW:

Some have called STAGECOACH the Citizen Kane of Western films. Well, I'm not sure that people have called it that, but they should because it is. No other films in the history of 20th century cinema has been copied and used as a format to tell stories in this visual medium than Stagecoach and Citizen Kane. It's like people were trying to figure out how to make movies for 40 years and then these two films came out at almost the same time and then wala - that's how we can make feature films for years to come!

Artistically, Citizen Kane is a much finer film than Stagecoach, but the later probably has more heart because we all seem to understand these characters no matter how old you are or what year you see it:

- You got your comedic relief follower who says funny things during dramatic moments to lighten the mood.

- Your drunk doctor who is like that uncle you have that's smart but is his own worst enemy.

- Your uptight female who is always bitchy because she needs to cover her deep insecurity.

- The old man who seems to think everything he says is the absolute truth and doesn't understand how those kids think.

- The lawman who looks at the world in very black and white terms but is also the first guy you pick to help you out in a jam.

- The loner gambler who does anything he wants and lives by his own law. But when it comes down to a sticky situations, he seems to be there for people.

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- The pretty girl with a sketchy past who some would consider a slut. Or a whore if you still haven't gotten over your learning disability and still have the Madonna/whore complex syndrome. But she's a good person and trying to overcome her image.

- And your man's man. The guy who is part maverick, part compassionate listener, part bad guy, part good guy, part hero, and part shy, especially when it comes to talking with the opposite sex.

We understand how every single character ticks right away because we either know all those people in our own life or we know them because we've seen each of these characters in many films in the past.

While listening to the DVD audio commentary of Stagecoach with the historical novelist of director John Ford, he mentioned that Ford created your typical character archetypes in future Westerns, especially during the golden era between 1939 and 1969. But I disagree with that statement. Ford created the archetypes for future movies in any genre until present day, not just Westerns.

We all use these characters in our films because it's an easy way for the audience to get emotionally involved with them right away because they are so used to them. Of course, what we do is push those characters to newer and more unique levels by mainly putting them in plot situations that are different so therefore they have to react different. BUT, we always start with these type of people. Perhaps to a detriment because it's so easy and cliche ridden and it harms us creatively.

Take a look at the creator of the man's man character in the movies, John Wayne. A journeyman actor getting close to his acting retirement then, Wayne never would of dreamed that he would of created such an ironic character and basically play him again and again in over 40 movies for the next 30 years. Audiences reacted in such positive ways, no one, not even Ford, was prepared for it. He hit the ultimate tri-fecta that future movie stars have tried to emulate since: he was a lover, he was a fighter and he was what men wanted to be and what women wanted in men.

There's a legendary story on the first days on set when they were making Stagecoach when John Ford changed John Wayne's acting style forever. Wayne, who was playing roles like the third man sitting at the bar, or the 4th heel in the gang of bad guys was considered an average actor at the time. He was good enough to get on the film sets and make a living, but never good enough to really get himself a leading man role. But Ford gave him a chance because he really couldn't find anyone inside of his studio to play this role. So he was stuck with this John Wayne guy and needed to do something about getting the performance he needed.

"Act with your eyes, not your mouth Wayne." Yelled John Ford in his direction.

John Wayne apparently had an apocalyptic moment.

"You mean don't move my mouth at all? How do I say my lines?" said Wayne.

"Try to do it without moving your mouth. Play the scene and react and talk to the actors with your eyes. Acting on screen is all about the eyes." Screamed Ford back.

John Wayne nodded and with that nod he became a movie star. Because from now on, he only nodded with his eyes.

They say that it's just the little things that are needed to adjust something from good to great. Like a slight adjustment in baseball pitcher's arm motion can transform him from throwing 80 MPH fastballs to 95 MPH fastballs. But it's almost impossible to figure out how to adjust things yourself. You're just too close to yourself. And more often than not, you don't have that person to help you adjust and you become a journeyman your entire life when you could of been a movie star. In John Wayne's case, he became not only a movie star but an iconic figure of the 20th century.

There's a lot more to say about this landmark movie Stagecoach. The ability to use 2nd unit directing scenes to mix in with the character scenes to create tension, drama and a great epic landscape. The birth of the western film that had a tremendous 30 year run. Or how the film really doesn't stand the test of time because of the blatant racism with Native American Indians.

And I'll leave that up to the other reviewers on this site.


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STAGECOACH