Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Stagecoach (1939)

            So an alcoholic, a whiskey runner, a banker, a gambler, a Southern Belle, a hooker, a Federal Marshal, and John Wayne step into a stagecoach; hilarity ensues. Teasing aside, Stagecoach is a fun action western that revolves around one’s expectation of the characters. The story subtly portrays each character through multiple perspectives to show that even the lowest of us can provide something great for this world.  For example the alcoholic is a brilliant doctor, the gambler is a gentleman, and et cetera. The use of multiple perspectives not only makes Stagecoach a unique western but also one of the first great character driven ensemble films.
            That being said there is something hypocritical about a diverse group of white people who are trying to set their prejudices aside so they can fight against the Native Americans. Yes, the way the Native Americans are portrayed as stereotypical, but they are nothing more than a Macguffin, a plot device whose sole purpose is to move the story forward. In fact, aside from the banker, who was a parody of Hoover politics, every antagonist in Stagecoach is a Macguffin. Personally, there is nothing inherently wrong with this plot device because that is all it is, but if the film point was not “ all people are not what you presume them to be” and was instead “all people are what you presume them to be” I would have thrown the DVD out the window.
            In short, the story of Stagecoach is still entertaining, and in certain aspects the story is great. This is not even taking into account John Wayne’s surprisingly great performance and the cinematography of Monument Valley. There are elements, like the American Indian stereotypes, that show the age of the film but they are innocuous enough to not ruin the film.  Stagecoach is both a contemplative and wild ride that can win over even the most skeptical viewer.

(Stagecoach is available on DVD, and Blu-ray through Criterion.com, as well as streaming through Amazon.com)

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