Thursday, May 1, 2014


Washington Post Staff Writer
"Stagecoach" is one of those movies that most students of cinema feel obligated to watch because of its historical significance. It marked director John Ford's first western to feature sound, his first collaboration with John Wayne and the first appearance onscreen of the rocky, soon-to-be-iconic landscapes of Utah's Monument Valley. On top of all that, it's considered one of the best westerns in the history of cinema.

But here's the best reason to visit (or revisit) this 1939 horse-and-buggy adventure, out today in a new DVD and Blu-ray (both $39.95) from the Criterion Collection: more than 70 years since its release it remains a beautifully shot, flat-out great motion picture.

While undeniably a western by definition, what makes "Stagecoach" so compelling is the fact that it transcends its genre, acting as both a character study of the relationships between a socially mismatched crew of stagecoach passengers, and an action movie about that same group's attempt to avoid crossing paths with the dangerous Geronimo and his Apache tribe.

If you have not studied the film, you should. It may seem slow, stereo-typed and as if you have seen it all before. That's because you have! The film is one of the most copied of all time, having set the tone and pace for many westerns and non-westerns that follow.

Just a few of the films it joined in numerous award categories at the academy include "Gone with the Wind", "The Wizard of Oz", "Gunga Din", "Dark Victory", "Goodbye, Mr Chips", "Love Affair", Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", Ninotchka", "Of Mice and Men", Wuthering Heights", "Beau Geste", "Juarez", "Drums Along the Mohawk", "Captain Fury", "Young Mr. Lincoln", "Bachelor Mother", "Lady of the Tropics", "The Rains Came", "Only Angels Have Wings", "The Private Life of Elizabeth and Essex", "The Mikado", "The Hunchback of Norte Dame" and other films you would recognize. All in one year!

In a very crowded Academy Award year, still seen as the most competitive in history with every nominee now a classic, "Stagecoach" took home two Academy Awards. It was nominated for but failed to take home "Best Picture". Thomas Mitchell did win Best Supporting Actor for the traveling salesman. It remains a multi-layered character worth studying.

First posted 6/11/12

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