Friday, February 5, 2010

Sadie Hawkins Valentine's Day, Part 2

I wonder what women think of the movie Stagecoach.

The story is fairly simple: a bunch of people have their own reasons for wanting to take the stagecoach through the Arizona desert. The only thing is, that trip goes awry when the coach is attacked by a bunch of Apaches, led by Geronimo. For the most part, the movie would probably generally be thought of as one for the guys, thanks in part to the presence of male lead John Wayne, as well as the exciting action sequences involving the Apache ambush. John Wayne's character is a man who's escaped jail after being framed, and his reason for getting on the stagecoach is to get the gang that framed him; this leads up to a gunfight as the climax of the movie, even after the Apaches strike. All very testosterone-laden stuff.

Yet I can't help but think there's a lot in here for the women, too. The characters are for the most part well-developed, with realistic motivations. That, and you couldn't ask for a much better cast of actors who hadn't yet hit it big. (Stagecoach was the movie that made John Wayne a star; despite having been the lead in The Big Trail, it was a financial flop and that sent Wayne to Poverty Row for the rest of the 1930s.) Besides Wayne, there's Claire Trevor as a woman of loose morals heading west to provide "comfort" to the men. A bunch of veteran character actors appear, too, such as Donald Meek as a traveling booze salesman; Thomas Mitchell as the drunken town doctor; John Carradine as a professional gambler; and Andy Devine as the stage driver. And although there's a lot of action, the movie is just as much about those characters as it is about the action.

And on top of all that, there's the scenery. John Ford directed this movie on location in Monument Valley, that area in southern Utah which has stunning backdrops and looks far more western than the parts of California most productions had used previously. Indeed, westerns weren't so popular before Stagecoach because of the technical difficulties in making pictures on location in those days. Stagecoach made John Wayne a star, as well as Monument Valley and the whole genre. It's worth watching almost for that alone.

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