Friday, November 4, 2016

Stagecoach (1939)

Continuing my Criterion Collection viewing before they leave +Hulu , next up was Stagecoach. It's not a movie I would have picked originally as while I do enjoy westerns, my enjoyment of the Criterion Collection is usually through their Samurai films.

But I'd heard rave reviews for years about Stagecoach and decided to pop it in.

What a rewarding experience.

First, if you're a young person, you should occasionally throw on an old movie, and I don't mean from the 80s, I mean from the 50s, 40s 30s or earlier. You should do this just to see what life was like in the days and times. The vernacular, the clothing, the attitudes, no matter what the people on stage are trying to portray, are the elements of the time the films were made.

Stagecoach provides the viewer with a brief meeting with nine individuals and their travels aboard a stagecoach. Each one with their own motivations for being on it. Each time they board it, they are in a dangerous territory and the resources protecting them grow fainter and fainter until they are all alone.

There is a lot going on and most of the characters get several moments to shine.

Much of it would still be relevant in today's society. For example, When Doc Boone tells Peacock that he served as a doctor in the Union Army during the "War of the Rebellion," Hatfield quickly uses a Southern term, the "War for the Southern Confederacy." The "wounds" of the war were still relatively fresh when this movie was made. You look around today and it seems nothing has changed.

The banker, Henry Gatewood, tells everyone how everything should be done. Loud and boisterous in demeanor acting as if his words were the words of the people. Until it's revealed that he's a thief, and unlike modern bankers, goes to jail. Well, I suppose modern bankers who, like he did, steal from the bank, would still go to jail... It's a huge flag of the hypocrisy of "I'm better than  you." even though, you know, he's not.

Another citizen, Dallas, is a prostitute who's been driven out of the city by a collection of righteous women under the organization "Law and Order League". So smug and satisfied with themselves that they can't wait for her to leave. 

The culture clashes abound as Dallas finds some sympathy with Ringo, played by a very young John Wayne here. As an escaped outlaw, Ringo's use for social classes is negligible. He treats everyone like people, responding to aggression with aggression for example.

And there are other bits. For example, Geronimo. His name holds sway over the entire trip like a powerful harbinger of terror. His mere name alone enough to cause men to tremble.

The variety of nationalities is present too, as when in one town, a Mexican is married to a Native American and notes that it's safer for him than for the others as he's already in the "family". Doesn't work out too well for him when his wife leaves and takes his possessions, including his prized horse who, it turns out, he loves and values more than his wife!

With the tricks of the trade in filming today, Stagecoach is ripe for a modern day remake. A full-color version that could capture the rocky plains, that could capture the rocky buttes , the isolation between towns and that last seat clenching battle as the Apaches and the Stagecoach riders fight tooth and nail against one another for survival.

Stagecoach has a variety of great characters that make great models. It has a variety of great scenery that can be inspiring. It has cultures clashing and numerous viewpoints coming together and falling apart in waves with no clear resolution.

Catch it before it leaves Hulu or on Blu-ray.