Wednesday, September 6, 2017


As he sends Dallas, a prostitute (Claire Trevor) and the "Ringo Kid,” (John Wayne) off on their merry way, the drunken doctor  (Thomas Mitchell) ends John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939) by saying “Well they’re saved from the blessings of civilization.” The doctor earlier announces his credo when he says: "I'm not a philosopher. I'm a fatalist." Like with Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools, and Hitchcock’s Lifeboat, Ford’s Stagecoach, recently revived at Film Forum, is a microcosm of society. Everyone has their story. Life itself is what the movie is about and the beauty of the conceit is that Ford accomplishes his goal in such a relatively confined space. Talk about the Aristotelian unities, Stagecoach has unity of place locked up. It’s not all the world’s a stage a la Jaques speech in As You Like It, it’s all the world's a stagecoach. A roar of laughter emanated from the audience when the thieving banker, Gatewood (Berton Churchill) announces, "what this  country needs is a businessman for president." You could make Stagecoach about a taxi or a bunch of people trapped in an elevator, only you wouldn't have the Apaches and an Indian chief, named Geronimo (talk about another crowd that's spared the dubious blessings of so-called civilization) nor the scenery of the Monument Valley in which Ford was able to frame his painterly tableau. The threads of narrative possess a stirring equanimity since Ford's characters are making the same journey for diametrically similar purposes—they’re either   fleeing or returning to so-called civilized society.

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