STAGECOACH (1939, U.S., 96 min.), directed by John Ford; screenplay by Dudley Nichols, from the short story, "Last Stage to Lordsburg," by Ernest Haycox; cinematography by Bert Glennon; stunts by Yakima Canutt; with John Wayne (Ringo Kid), Claire Trevor (Dallas), John Carradine (Ringfield/Hatfield the Gambler), Thomas Mitchell (Dr. Josiah Boone), Andy Devine (Buck the Stagecoach Driver), Donald Meek (Samuel Peacock the Whiskey Drummer), Bertin Churchill (Henry Gatewood the Banker), Louise Pratt (Lucy Mallory the Officers Wife), Tim Holt (Lt. Blanchard), George Bancroft (Sheriff Curly Wilson).
Please answer the following. Do longer, detailed answers (100-150 words each) to three.
1. French film theorist Andre Bazin called Stagecoach the most perfect of all Westerns (though not necessarily the greatest). What elements of the genre does the film contain? Think in terms of setting, character types, plot elements, technology, themes, and ritual (typical) activities.
2. Stagecoach was the first of the many Westerns which John Ford was to film in Monument Valley and its surroundings. What is it about this setting which makes it so striking? What kind of mood does it conjure up in the spectator?
3. Like so many great stories, STAGECOACH tells the story of a journey, literally and symbolically. This journey takes us from Tonto to Lordsburg (in fact, the three major settingsTonto, Lordsburg, and the stagecoach journey in between--can be said to embody the three parts of this film). How do these three settings differ in terms of atmosphere, theme, and plot development?
4. How does the journey to Lordsburg duplicate the general Westward migration of the latter half of the 19th Century. What elements of that migration does the film criticize, and what elements does it seem to praise?
5. One of the general thematic conflicts that one finds in Westerns (and especially in John Ford Westerns) is that between Wilderness and Civilization. Discuss the way this film treats the conflict between the "civilized" and the "uncivilized" in this film. Also, how in general are "Indians" portrayed in the film?
6. One could argue that the stagecoach here is a metaphor for America,with its inhabitants a melting pot of Americana as seen through the filter of Thirties Hollywood. What are the stereotypes that we find aboard this carriage, and who missed the stage? (i.e., who is left out?)
7. Which of the characters in Stagecoach is your favorite? Why?
8. Discuss the Ringo kid. "Last Stage to Lordsburg," the short story on which the film is based, has a Ringo Kid who is the classic Western gunslingersmooth, tough, cynical. Stagecoachs Kid is very different, right? Describe the character and try to explain the change from the story.
9. Stagecoach was the role which made John Wayne a star. Ford had acquired the property with this in mind, for the young Wayne was a personal friend. Wayne is clearly the central figure in the film, the figure against whom all the other characters are defined. The film is designed to make Wayne stand out, to give him authority and yet make him sympathetic. Give some examples. How is the role of the Ringo Kid ideally suited to the Dukes acting style?
10. Consider the issue of the relations between the sexes in Stagecoach. Compare the Ringo-Dallas couple with the Hatfield-Lucy couple. How are we meant to view the two couples?
11. John Ford always stressed the importance of the social rituals that unify those who are so far from "civilization." What is the central ritual in this film? Why is it so important?
12. Discuss the scene of the Indian attack, perhaps the film's most famous.
13. Discuss the use of music in the film. When do we hear it, and how does it contribute to the atmosphere of particular scenes. Give an example or two if you can.
14. The cinematography of the film is marked by the contrast between the enclosed space of the coach and the great vistas of the American West. The former created great challenges for the director, because that tight shooting space could easily have led to a boring visual style. How does he keep those interior scenes from becoming too boring?
15. Discuss the film's ending. What is the point of the final encounter with the Plummers? What are we left with at the end?
16. Like Casablanca, Stagecoach is considered one of the quintessential Hollywood films. What makes it so?
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