Monday, March 2, 2015

John Wayne’s Breakout Movie Role


Seeing the movie “Stagecoach” gives the viewer a chance to see John Wayne in the role the made him a star. It also provides an excellent example of director John Ford’s style of westerns that made him one of the best. Besides the “Duke,” add eight others to the stagecoach and you have a classic.  The seven passengers plus a driver and one riding shotgun are trying to get through dangerous Apache territory.  The story has lots of twists and turns besides the rough trail. The other star is Claire Trevor, who will not disappoint viewers delivering a great performance and maybe more. Is the story about more than a thrilling ride through Geronimo country?  Will they all make it?  Will love conquer all? These questions are just the tip of the iceberg. Shown by Jack Nachbar at the Edge Center in Bigfork on Thursday March 12th at 6:30 PM free of charge accompanied by Jack’s presentation providing a better understanding of the film and the film industry at the time period of the picture.  Of course there will be a cartoon of the same period to start out the fun.

In 1880, the Lordsburg stage heads east from Tonto, Arizona Territory to Lordsburg, New Mexico Territory. It has a mixed bag of passengers to be sure and their stories definitely cover the bases of the old west.  There is a crooked banker, whiskey salesman, woman of dubious background, pregnant wife, sheriff and the Ringo Kid. Lots of action and great scenery that can only be best viewed on the “big screen.” The movie had seven Oscar nominations and won two. In 1995, “Stagecoach” was selected by the National Film Registry for preservation being picked by the United States Library of Congress as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” In June 2008, The American Film Institute acknowledged the movie as the ninth best film in the Western genre. Orson Welles believed that this movie was a perfect textbook of film making. He said he watched it more than 40 times in preparation for the making of Citizen Kane.

Ringo Kid: "I got a ranch across the border. There's a nice place--a real nice place... trees... grass... water. There's a cabin half built. A man could live there... and a woman. Will you go?"
Dallas: "But you don't know me--you don't know who I am."
Ringo Kid: "I know all I wanna know."

That is classic John Wayne and comes from “Stagecoach.” The Duke, as he was known, was in many movies before this one, but this was his first staring role under director John Ford, and it made him a star. Wayne’s character, the Ringo kid, was not a good guy by any means, but had the compassion and sense of duty not to abandon the rest of the travelers in their time of need. You gotta love him.

Born Marion Mitchell Morrison in Iowa (1907-1979), John Wayne’s family relocated to Los Angeles when he was nine and that is where his life’s work was centered. With “Stagecoach” making him a star he ended up being the star in 142 films, became the symbol of the American hero on-screen. He won an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and a Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement. But the Duke’s lasting film achievement, was the persona he portrayed on-screen.  It has been copied by countless actors whether they would admit it or not. He was among the top box office draws for three decades which made him very special to studios. “An enduring American icon, he epitomized rugged masculinity and is famous for his demeanor, including his distinctive calm voice, walk, and height,” from Wiki at

Claire Trevor was nicknamed the "Queen of Film Noir" because she so often was the “bad girl” in film noir and other black and white suspense movies. By the time of “Stagecoach,” Clair was a star. Clarie Trevor (1920 –2000) was born in Brooklyn, grew up in Larchmont, New York, and according to her biography on the website of Claire Trevor School of the Arts, "Trevor's acting career spanned more than seven decades and included successes in stage, radio, television and film. . . .often played the hard-boiled blonde.” Schooled in the performing arts, by 1932 she was starring on Broadway and began appearing in Brooklyn produced Vitaphone shorts. She starred in 29 films from 1933 to 1938 and by 1939 was an established leading lady actress. Some of her most memorable movies were with John Wayne including “Stagecoach.” Clare’s final Oscar nomination was co-staring with  John Wayne in “The High and the Mighty.” She had three Oscar nominations winning one, two Prime Time Emmy nominations winning one, won a Golden Boot award and nominated for a Laurel Award. More at:

John Ford (1894 – 1973) directed “Stagecoach” and was the pioneer of location shooting and the “long shot” done against a background of roughed terrain vistas in remote areas.  Stagecoach was the first of many Westerns that Ford shot using Monument Valley on the Arizona–Utah border.  Location shooting like this meant that the stars, used to opulence of Hollywood living, had to “camp out” in tents.  This atmosphere added a touch of personal reality to the actors about the times and life styles in which their characters lived.

Ford started his directing career in 1914. He was famous for both his Westerns such as "Stagecoach," "The Searchers," and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," plus adaptations of such classic 20th-century American novels as "The Grapes of Wrath." His four Academy Awards for Best Director (1935, 1940, 1941, 1952) are a record, and one of those films, "How Green Was My Valley," also won Best Picture.

Nearly all of the silent films he directed are lost.  They made up the majority of Ford’s 140 directed movies. Now he is widely regarded as one of the most important and influential film-makers of his generation.

In the case of “Stagecoach” Ford shot much of it in the cramped stage passenger compartment with seven passengers. This being against the grandeur of the scenery outside emphasized the tight “community” and their vulnerability. To some viewers, Ringo Kid’s decisions to stay and help out instead of escaping when he could seemed more logical because of the cramped conditions.  This is classic Ford using everything possible for effect. Above is set shot of "Stagecoach" filming. Ref

When watching “Stagecoach” you might think that it is a bit “canned” with so many western genre characters and situations in place.  You have seen much of it before.  Well, that’s because this movie created them. Remember this is back in 1939 and it was so good that it did set the stage for lots of imitations, and imitation is the best for of flattery possible. John Ford was not only one of the best directors, but this movies set the tone for generations of Westerns to come.

Come to Bigfork and find out yourself. This movie is presented free of charge and with some appropriate snacks courtesy of Jack and his wife/projectionist Lynn.  Place: The Edge Center for the Arts, Bigfork. Date and time: Thursday March 12th  6:30 PM. Price of admission: free.

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