Two devout Fordians make personal contributions to the Criterion disk: Peter Bogdanovich with amusing character portraits of Ford and John Wayne, and Tag Gallagher with a video essay, "Dreaming of Jeannie." Gallagher sketches Stagecoach's aptness as a reflection of post-Depression America and then, with acute sensitivity to the particulars of Ford's style, analyzes key passages. He illuminates the director's genius for exploring inner reality through spatial dynamics, and persuasively demonstrates that "Ford wants us to empathize with people, not to ally against them … to see without intolerance." Ford himself is heard from in a 72-minute interview conducted at his home in 1968 by BBC interviewer Philip Jenkinson; this is fascinating, though less for information and insights imparted than as a chapter in Ford's career-long history of being cantankerous with interviewers. His grandson and biographer Dan Ford presents a quarter-hour of home movies of the director with trusted colleagues aboard his yacht Araner, a home-away-from-home and means of escape from Hollywood … yet often Dudley Nichols would be turning out script pages somewhere on board. Stagecoach made Monument Valley "John Ford country," so it's right that the set should include a short history of the Goulding family, who operated a trading post there, and their relationship with Ford and the Navajo. There are also a (rather disappointing) tribute to Yakima Canutt, the fabled stuntman who played such a big part in executing the movie's famous chase across the salt flats; a 1949 radio dramatization of Stagecoach with Wayne and Trevor re-creating their roles; a theatrical trailer; and a print essay by David Cairns.
And yet the most exciting component apart from the Stagecoach restoration itself is something else by John Ford: a 54-minute silent comedy-Western from 1917, Bucking Broadway. This was made the year Ford started directing (at age 23), yet the work is both fresh with discovery and remarkably assured. Already it has the look of a Ford picture, as in an early sequence of horsemen gathering, surging up hillsides, crossing a creek, and then (anticipating the first shot of Stagecoach!) breaking into view from behind a roll of land we didn't even realize was there. The playing is relaxed, natural; there's hardly anything "silent movie" about it except that you can't hear their voices. Ford even kids about sentimentality (something he would often be charged with in later years) with a scene of crusty cowpokes getting blubbery over the song "Home Sweet Home." And in the final reel, as hero Cheyenne Harry (Harry Carey) arrives in New York City on a mission to rescue his girl, one shot is sublime: the off-center framing of the Westerner, with saddle thrown over his shoulder, striding into the tall, baronial lobby of a Broadway hotel as concierge and bellhops look warily on. Picture-man John Ford had arrived, ready for work. --Richard T. Jameson
He had good reason to lie. Had he told the truth one of the greatest Western of all time might never had been made, and therein lies a tale. . .
Ford had a reputation for being a good money maker when he was forced to be 'down to earth' but box office poison whenever he got 'artsy', which was often. Ford was a genius and he admired great writing, bringing Eugene O' Neill to the screen---and bombing. Outside the theater the folks in 'Middle America' just didn't take to "Mourning Becomes Electra". Thus Ford had good reason to keep the true origin of "Stagecoach" under wraps.
In 'Pudding' which takes place during the Franco-Prussian war, a group of strangers board a stagecoach. Among them are two nuns, an aristocrat and his wife, a cynic, and a prostitute nicknamed "Pudding."
They treat her like dirt until they run out of food and discover she's brought some. Later, when a Prussian officer detains and threatens them, unless 'Pudding' pleasures him, even the nuns insist that she should have sex with him. She complies, but has the last laugh--she's got syphillis and has patriotically infected an enemy of France!
All the passengers are again disgusted with her, except for the cynic, who is instead revolted with the hypocrisy of his companions. The prostitute has proven nobler than the nuns and aristocrats. . .
Well, no one was ready to have a prostitute infect Cochise or Geronimo with venereal disease in a 1940's Western, but the film follows the THEME of the classic story closely: We meet, in order of social status, 1. A respectable banker 2. An Army officer's wife 3. A liquor slaesman 4. A shady gambler, 5. A prostitute and 6. A convicted murderer (The Ringo Kid)
By the end, it's all turned upside down and the convicted murderer turns out to be a hero, the banker a crook, etc.
The uniqueness of 'Stagecoach' comes in part from the fact that yes, it is like " Lifeboat" or "The Breakfast Club " -- A bunch of strangers thrust together via outside forces. The Stagecoach is like a space capsule in the wilderness. So neither Gary Cooper nor any other star of the time would come anywhere near it, since it was written as an ENSEMBLE piece for a group of actors, not as a star vehicle.
Little did they know. . .
And if you wonder why Orson Welles studied it so closely, note the fluidity of the shots inside the supposedly cramped stagecoach, (ever wonder where the camera was? ) the incredible stunts, the sense of inpending doom as they go further into the unknown, and--Aw, shucks partner, let's just say this guy could direct!
Wayne is bigger than life, as is the first frame in which we see him.
We hear a shot , the stagecoach stops, and the camera moves in as a tall John Wayne twirls his rifle, Monument Valley framing him in the background.
Best entrance on film till the 1960's when Sean Connery graced us with "Bond, James Bond " at the casino.
John Wayne stands out and steals the film without even trying.