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Black and white, 1939
Walter Wanger Productions
Directed by John Ford
Runtime: 96 minutes

Starring: Claire Trevor (Dallas), John Wayne (Ringo Kid), Andy Devine (Buck), John Carradine (Hatfield), Thomas Mitchell (Doc Boone), Louise Platt (Lucy Mallory), George Bancroft (Curley), Donald Meek (Peacock), Berton Churchill (Gatewood)

The Stagecoach credits open to scenes of a stagecoach, cavalry riders, and Indians riding against the dramatic backdrop of Monument Valley.

In the first scene, two riders gallop into a US Army post to report that Geronimo is leading the Apaches in an uprising around the region. The telegraph wires to the nearby town have been cut dead.

The film cuts to a bustling town where a stagecoach has just pulled in to change horses and take on new passengers. Through a series of short scenes, we are introduced one by one to each of the passengers who will be on the next leg of the stage's journey. Mrs. Lucy Mallory, a fine southern lady, is en route to see her husband, who is serving in the Cavalry. Mr. Hatfield, a former southern gentleman and the town's notorious gambler, is taken by Mrs. Mallory's ladylike grace. He joins her on the stage ride with an offer to protect her from Indian attack.

Dallas, a local prostitute, is being drummed out of town by the ladies of the Law and Order League. Doc Boone, the town physician as well as the town drunk, is also being shamed out of town. While obtaining his final drink in town, Doc Boone is introduced to Mr. Peacock, a timid and kindly whiskey drummer who is also traveling on the stage. Doc Boone immediately befriends Peacock and, more importantly, his whiskey sample bag.

Buck, the stage driver, ends up with Curley the Marshall riding shotgun on the stage. Curley aims to find the Ringo Kid, an outlaw who has recently escaped from the penitentiary, at the final stage stop at Lordsburg. Curley is hoping to stop Ringo from going after the Plummer brothers, who are responsible for killing Ringo's family.

Before leaving town, the stage passengers are warned by the cavalry that due to the Apache uprising they travel at their own risk. The cavalry will escort the stage to the next stop, where another regiment will take over and escort them to the next stop, and so on. The passengers agree to take the risk and the stage leaves town. A last minute passenger, a blowhard bank manager named Gatewood, flags down the stage and joins them, secretly carrying a bag of money he has stolen from the bank.

En route to the next stop, the stage comes upon the Ringo Kid, whose horse has gone lame. Curley arrests Ringo and takes him into custody on the stage.

As all these disparate passengers ride together, there is friction due to their social differences. At the first stage stop, Mrs. Mallory, Hatfield, and Gatewood all refuse to sit near Dallas because of her profession. Ringo, who doesn't know that Dallas is a prostitute, assumes they are all avoiding him because he is an outlaw who broke out of prison.

The Army presence at the first stop is no longer there, so the stage must ride unescorted if they choose to go on. A majority vote of the passengers sends them forward on their journey.

Buck takes the stage through a snowy and cold path to avoid the Apaches, and they make it to the next stop cold but unharmed. They find that the Army has left this post as well, and Mrs. Mallory learns that her husband may have been injured in a skirmish with the Apaches. She collapses; it turns out that she is pregnant. Doc Boone sobers up and, with Dallas's help, delivers a baby girl.

Ringo observes Dallas with the baby, and later when they are alone, he asks her to marry him and come to settle down on his ranch. They are interrupted by Curley before she can give an answer. Not wanting to have Ringo killed by the Plummers, Dallas helps him to escape if he promises to ride for Mexico where she will join him later. He agrees and sets to ride out, but returns immediately when he sees the Apaches are near and ready to attack.

The passengers hurriedly attempt a run to Lordsburg before the Apaches can reach them. When they arrive at the ferry stop, the buildings have been burned and the ferry crossing destroyed. The men rig the stage with large logs lashed to the wheels to float it across the river as the horses pull. When they are finally near Lordsburg and feel they are home free, the Apaches attack. Peacock is hit in the shoulder by an arrow. Ringo, Curley, Hatfield, and Doc volley with gunfire. Some spectacular stunts ensue, including a man falling between the running horses and under the stage, and Ringo jumping across to the lead horses to control the reins after Buck is shot in the arm.

As the men on the stage run out of ammunition, all seems lost. Hatfield, who has one remaining bullet, reaches over to spare Mrs. Mallory by shooting her in the head as she prays, unaware. As he is about to pull the trigger he is shot; the gun falls from his hand. Moments later, the bugle of the cavalry is heard. The Army charges in and rescues the passengers in the nick of time. Hatfield dies from his wound, but the rest survive their injuries.

The stage finally pulls into Lordsburg. Gatewood is arrested for embezzlement. Dallas, who has helped Mrs. Mallory and cared for her baby though she was shunned by some in the group, is finally acknowledged for her decency. Ringo, still bent on killing the Plummers, gets Curley to allow him to go free for 10 minutes if he agrees to come back and return to jail. Ringo walks Dallas to the town brothels, and discovers she is a prostitute. This does not dissuade him from wanting to marry her, and he asks her to wait. He goes to face down the Plummers. The three brothers meet Ringo in the street for a shootout. Ringo drops to the ground to fire three shots from his rifle (we know he only has three bullets), and a couple more shots are fired, though the camera cuts away from the action so we don't see who is hit.

Jake Plummer walks back into the bar, then stumbles and falls dead. Ringo walks back to Dallas and they embrace. Curley pulls up with a wagon to take Ringo back to prison. Ringo asks Curley to make sure Dallas gets to his ranch safely where she will wait for him. Rather than taking him in, Curley and Doc set Ringo and Dallas free in the wagon to pursue their life together.

Plot keywords: U.S. Army, cavalry, Apache Indians, Indian attack, stagecoach, bank robbery, escaped outlaw, redeemed prostitute, redeemed outlaw, shootout, birth

Scenery: Monument Valley, desert

Stagecoach is available on DVD.

Classic Westerns on TCM

Westerns on Fox Movie Channel


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