Caught Stagecoach on the big screen. Loved every minute of it.

NOTE: This review may contain spoilers.

One of the fun parts of living in Austin is an annual summer classic film fest:

Tonight I wandered downtown to catch Stagecoach on the big screen. While this 1939 classic is mainly known for being John Wayne’s vehicle to super-stardom, the heart of the movie for me is always Clair Trevor as Dallas.

This is a movie with a recognized theme of redemption and Dallas starts it being driven out of town by the right and proper. She is saloon girl, a slightly nicer version of a prostitute really, with a country mile-wide streak of shame and hurt inside. Trevor shows it with her eyes, voice, posture, and delivers a masterpiece of a performance.

Dallas is the emotional heart of the movie. Because we come to care about Dallas, we also care about John Wayne as the Ringo Kid. He is an escaped con out to avenge a wrong done to him. Even the lawman who arrests him thinks him a good man. Yet, this had to be communicated. Wayne couldn’t be a generic tough cowboy with a gun. He had to be shy at times and earnest and even portray a bit of innocence.

Wayne delivers a star-making performance in the film, but the key to it is Trevor. Being paired with Trevor brought out a tenderness in Wayne, a visible sense of longing and being unsure how to proceed at times. It is clear that Dallas is the most lovely creature the Ringo Kid has ever seen and he becomes her protector. He even attempts to leave his quest for revenge behind at one point because she pleads with him to do so. He is thwarted from escape when the Apache war parties are observed getting closer.

He is to be her protector and escape is not an option. This is a movie where foreshadowing and the role of fate is explored (look for the two dead man’s hand scenes). Fate has put him in this stagecoach with Dallas. He must see it through.

Does Ringo know of Dallas’ past? He might or might not. The point is that he doesn’t care. Maybe it is the knowledge that his quest for revenge may end tragically. Or, that prison awaits him even if he survives. They might not even make it to the end of the stagecoach ride if the Apaches have their way. He sees great inner beauty of Dallas still there under a hardened protective shell. He may die before it is over, but the Ringo Kid will try to express his desire. The option of a long courtship isn’t there, so it is now or never for both of them.

The question is whether Dallas will let go of her fears and pain to accept the love that is offered to her. Again, because we care about Dallas, we come to care about Ringo.

This is a movie where there are no bad scenes or performances. Everything just plain works. It is also visually stunning with its Monument Valley location shots that make this stagecoach seem even more vulnerable and tiny. The stunt work is still some of the best in the business (and homages are paid to it in other films) and the action sequences are amazing.

However, this isn’t a movie about shootouts or Apache attacks. The theme of a final opportunity for personal redemption is clear and some characters rise to the challenge (and others do not). Acts of heroism are performed by characters who are not heroes and deeds of great kindness come from unexpected sources.

Yet, at its heart, this is a love story even guys can cheer on.

Go buy it, rent it, stream it or whatever. Or, if you are in a town with the good sense to have a classic movie fest, go see it on the big screen.


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