Stagecoach was considered a classic western at the time it was made. It also proved to be the breakout performance for John Wayne’s career.
The plot involves a stagecoach making a run straight through an Indian uprising under Geronimo. The passenger list is a cross section of various types found in westerns. Driving the coach are a lawman named Curley Wilcox and for comic relief Buck, played by Andy Devine. There’s a prostitute with a heart of gold named Dallas who’s been thrown out of town by the ladies of the Decency League. There’s a southern gambler named Hatfield played by John Carradine. There’s the drunken Doc Boone played by Thomas Mitchell. There’s the obnoxious town banker Mr. Gatewood who has secretly absconded with the bank’s money. There’s Mr. Peacock who is a mild-mannered whiskey salesman. There’s Mrs. Lucy Mallory the pregnant wife of a cavalry officer. And last but not least, the Ringo Kid played by John Wayne. Ringo has busted out of jail and is headed to Lordsburg like the rest of them but in his case, it is to find and kill the three Plummer brothers who killed his father and brother and framed him for one of their crimes.
The passengers represent the various class and moral differences that make for friction and hard feelings between them. The main story is the journey through Apache territory and the gun battle with Geronimo’s men but along the way the drunken doctor sobers up long enough to deliver Mrs. Mallory’s baby. Dallas and Ringo strike up a romance. Doc Boone finishes off all of Mr. Peacock’s whiskey samples. Gatewood and Mrs. Mallory discover that he served under her father the general in the Civil War.
But the final chapter is the showdown between Ringo and the Plummers. And after Ringo finishes off all three of them (with just three bullets!) he gives himself up to Curley to finish out his sentence in jail. But Curley decides to take the law into his own hands and frees the Kid and sends him off with Dallas to start their new life together across the state line at Ringo’s family ranch. The storybook happy ending.
For our generation the story probably seems a little too stereotyped, the acting too broad and the ending too pat. The idea that a lawman would release his prisoner on his own recognizance to allow him to engage in a gunfight after which he would just walk back into custody to be brought back to prison seems like some kind of fantasy. The expectant mother travelling on a stagecoach through an Indian attack seems even crazier. But the movie does provide an enjoyable story. I wouldn’t consider it any kind of best in class western. I think it’s a good story with several good actors, especially Thomas Mitchell and John Carradine. And it’s fun to see a young John Wayne navigating around actors who were much bigger stars than he was at the time.
I recommend this movie to fans of westerns, John Wayne and movies of this era.