westerns - is it a love or hate thing?
Now I love a Western, always have. I think it's from being made to watch them with my Dad when I was young. But I am aware that it's a bit of a love or hate thing. I love all the moody iconography, outlaws, gunslingers, saloon girls, dusty high streets, twangy spaghetti western style music and of course tumbleweed, loving the tumbleweed.
But the film I'm going to witter on about today is Stagecoach, the 1939 classic, directed by John Ford and famous for being the film that launched John Wayne into super stardom and established him as a (or should I say THE) classic Western actor.
The reason I like Stagecoach so much is that it has all the classic iconography of the genre. You have the distinctive landscape, the actual stagecoach, the outlaw, the marshall, the saloon girl, the Apaches on the rampage and of course the outfits.
I also like it (in fact this is what makes me love it), because it's definitely an anti-establishment film - yes I said ANTI-establishment. In 1939!!! Who would have thought it?
The film has a very simple premise; it follows the travellers on a packed stagecoach going between two (very different) frontier towns; Tonto (puritanical and conservative) and Lordsburg (violent and debauched), during a time when it is dangerous to travel because of Geronimo and the Apaches.
The stagecoach is filled with a mix of oppositional characters. You have the 'eastern' characters such as Lucy Mallory, a snooty lady looking for her husband who is in the army and Hatfield who is a high-society gambler. You also have a corrupt bank manager and a whiskey salesman. Then you have the 'western' characters of Dallas, a saloon girl, Buck the coach driver, Curley the marshall, Doc the drunken doctor and of course Ringo, the outlaw.
None of the characters get along, the stagecoach bristles with tension and then they are attacked by the Apaches (of course), the result of which is the 'eastern' characters all proving to be cowardly and hypocritical whilst the 'western' characters are the heroes.
The two lead characters Ringo, played by Wayne, and Dallas, played by Claire Trevor are basically an outlaw and a prostitute (or saloon girl as they were more affectionately known), and they, rather amusingly (I think John Ford loved making this film), are the moral core of the film. I mean REALLY.....quite a modern point of view for 1939 America.
And at the end of the film after Wayne has avenged his family's murder by killing the Plummer brothers and you'd expect that Curley, the marshall would handcuff him and take him away...well, NO. Curley instead sends Ringo and Dallas off into the sunset telling them that they would be happier away from society...so off they ride to a happier life, probably in Mexico where one imagines there were no raging puritanicals. And heck, who can blame them.
If you haven't seen Stagecoach it's well worth a watch.
PS. Claire Trevor is wonderful as Dallas in this film, was the biggest star at the time of making and the highest paid of all the actors in the film too....GO girlfriend!!