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TheRaider.net Research Indy's Influences Inspirations Stagecoach
 
Stagecoach
 

Released by United Artists - 1939

Directed by: John Ford
Story by: Ernest Haycox (Stage)
Screenplay by: Dudley Nichols
Produced by: Walter Wanger

Starring:
Claire Trevor .... Dallas
John Wayne .... The Ringo Kid
Andy Devine .... Buck
John Carradine .... Hatfield
Thomas Mitchell .... Dr. Josiah Boone
Louise Platt .... Lucy Mallory
George Bancroft .... Sheriff Curly Wilcox

 

If there is one movie that defined the great American Western, one movie that set all the standards for the genre that would be the keystone of cinema for almost forty years, then John Ford's Stagecoach is that film. Starring a very young John Wayne, Stagecoach arguably one of the greatest Westerns ever filmed.

The film tells the story of, well, a stagecoach. The wooden wagon faces a myriad of trials and tribulations as it attempts to traverse Apache territory to get to a small settlement across the desert. On the coach are a mix of interesting characters, including a drunken doctor (Dr. Boone) and a prostitute (Dallas) who were both run out of their town by a group of conservative women. Also populating the small coach are a banker who robbed his own establishment, a Southern gentleman gambler, a young woman (Lucy) looking for her soldiering husband, and a whiskey salesman named Mr. Peacock.

Buck drives the coach while Sheriff Wilcox rides shotgun, on the lookout of Geronimo's angry Apaches and a young man called "the Ringo Kid" (Wayne) wanted by the law. The U.S. cavalry accompanies them part of the way across the mid-west when they run into Ringo, without a horse and looking for a ride. Wilcox and Ringo come to an understanding that he is under arrest, but will remain unbound in case they need him to use a rifle.

Ringo it seems is the only person besides the drunken Dr. Boone (incidentally played by Thomas Mitchell who also stars in Secret of the Incas) who shows Dallas any respect as a lady. The rest of the party treats her like a dirty whore. They arrive at fort after fort, stopping to rest, all the while discovering that Lucy's husband is always one step ahead of the stagecoach. On the last leg of their journey, the Apaches rear their deadly heads and everyone knows it will be a frantic fight to the death. Even if they survive, Ringo knows that at their destination, Luke Plummer and his two brothers are just waiting for him to get off the stagecoach so they can gun him down.

John Ford defined the Western with this film. In this one story, all of the now-cliché devices are present for the first time. There is Dallas, the whore with the heart of gold and Ringo the misunderstood, noble outlaw. There is the sympathetic Sheriff and the lovable, if a little cowardly, coach driver as well as the gentlemanly Southern gambler and the fish-out-of-water traveling salesman.

While the film seems rather tired now to modern audiences, keep in mind that this film started it all for the Western, and was truly revolutionary. There are some truly powerful sequences in this film, most notably the moments in which Dallas must deal with the prejudices of others. The cinematography is amazing, director John Ford opting to shoot the majority of the exteriors on location in Monument Valley, Utah. Even the back lot scenes in the towns are expertly crafted with the final duel between Ringo and the Plummers looking simply breathtaking.


Yakima Canutt doing his
Stagecoach stunt.

Indiana Jones borrows much from Stagecoach. Pioneering stuntman Yakima Canutt was responsible in this film for the stunt that inspired the climax of the truck chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark, in which Indy goes under the truck. In the film, an Apache warrior attempts to stop the stagecoach by jumping onto the two lead horses. Ringo spins from the roof of the wagon and shoots the Apache with a rifle, sending him down between the horses, where he slides underneath the wagon and away from the coach. Granted, the character was supposedly dead, but the stunt was awe-inspiring. Yakima would go on that same year in the serial Zorro's Fighting Legion to make the stunt complete by sliding under the coach and then catching it on the other side, only to work his way back to the front.

The other influences Stagecoach had on Indiana Jones were in the areas of atmosphere and cinematography. In the opening of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, it is impossible not to see the visual parallels with Stagecoach as the Boy Scouts ride gently through amazing desert landscapes in Utah much like John Ford achieved in so many of his films. When the stagecoach finally arrives at the town in the middle of the night, battered and bruised, Indy fans may notice similarities in the lighting scheme of the town to that of the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark in which Indy and Marion are parting with Sallah at the docks.

If you have not seen Stagecoach, you are missing one of cinema's signature moments, a true earmark in the history of storytelling. (MF)

 

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