Seventy-one years ago, legendary director John Ford made his first foray back into the Western genre, following a brief hiatus from movie-making, marking his first with sound. His lead was to be his friend, and former B-movie actor, John Wayne, in the film that helped to skyrocket him to stardom. Newly restored from an early negative, the high-def transfer looks great with vivid black and white, backed up against a brilliant Monument Valley backdrop.
To call this movie a classic is an understatement. The stunning scenery, visual techniques, stunts, and first pairing of Ford and Wayne made for the perfect ingredients to the quintessential Western drama. The rest of the cast, Claire Trevor, Andy Devine, John Carradine, Thomas Mitchell, and George Bancroft are front and center for this character-driven story of a ragtag group of strangers headed east to Lordsburg together by a dangerous stagecoach route.
The stagecoach scenes are beautifully shot and very believable, and make you very thankful for modern transportation. Cooped up in dusty tight quarters are Gatewood the dubious banker, drunkard Doc Boone (Mitchell), meek, whiskey salesman Mr. Peacock, Dallas (Trevor), the run-out-of-town hussy, and her polar opposite, the pregnant gentlewoman Lucy, accompanied by the ever so valiant Hatfield. Driving the whole gang is Andy Devine’s character, Buck, who serves as a squeaky-voiced comedy role, and riding shotgun (literally) is Sheriff Curley. Along the way, Curley is charged with transporting the roguish outlaw, The Ringo Kid (Wayne).
Interpersonal tension inside of the coach moves the plot along, and threats of Apache war-parties and a saloon shootout heighten the action and drama. All set against the Monument Valley scenery of Utah and Arizona, the fast paced stagecoach barrels along with a wide-open horizon. The characters are what really set this movie apart. Though there are definite stereotypes cast, each of the players change and grow over the journey, gaining compassion and understanding for their fellow travelers. It reminds us that we are all thrown into this life as very different and unique, and must learn to appreciate and use those God-given skills and personalities to accomplish the goals that we have.
The special Criterion Collection edition comes chock full of features which include a look at John Wayne’s famous stuntman, Yakima Canutt, Bucking Broadway, a silent film done by Ford in 1917, an hour-long interview with the director himself, and many others behind-the-scenes documentaries for Ford/Wayne buffs.