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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Stagecoach (1939)



Reviews and Comments

One of the greatest westerns ever made -- and better than any that had come before it -- Stagecoach is a joy and a delight. It's packed with strong characters, action, and multiple levels of subtext for the thinking viewer. The premise is pretty simple: nine characters, in different walks of life, wind up for different reasons on a stagecoach headed through hostile Apache territory. Among them are criminals, known and unknown, and those who would see them in jail. There is not only a social class rivalry at play but a North vs. South rift, too. There are themes of responsibility and redemption, pasts that threaten futures, and a romance that offers the opportunity for a new beginning, despite the will of an unforgiving society. It takes multiple viewings to digest all that this film explores about humanity and human nature.

Yet Stagecoach is never heavy-handed, never feels like it's as substantial as it is. On the surface, this is just a good, sweet, and exciting story, succinctly but artfully told. Director John Ford was a master at infusing meaning into his films without diluting their appeal as action/adventure stories. There is no waste here, no scenes that distract from the story, slow its momentum, or fail to build upon its themes. The film so transcended the established western that it revolutionized the genre.

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