Creating A Hollywood Classic – “Stagecoach” (1939, John Ford)

According to many film critics, “Stagecoach” (1939, John Ford) was considered to be the film which shot American actor, John Wayne to stardom. The classic tale, follows a group of American people in the classical Western period of the 1880’s (the exact year in which “Stagecoach” takes place is 1880) who all, for many individual reasons of their own, need to travel from Tonto, Arizona to Lordsburg, New Mexico. On beginning the journey however, the group become aware that the stagecoach in which they are going to travel, follows a war path trail through Apache territory. Being a very typical genre theme of the Western in the 1900’s, this proved to be very popular with audiences. 

On first viewing, it is difficult to accept how significant the film really is, especially due to the old cameras and lenses which create a very old and individual feel to the film. The technological capabilities of the production team of “Stagecoach” can be noted in the panning/zooming shot below, when the camera first zooms onto John Wayne’s character, Ringo Kid. In this particular shot, notice how the camera blur as it zooms into Wayne’s face, due to the camera having no ‘depth of field’ allowance. 

  

“Stagecoach, it may be said, revolutionised the western epic by breaking out of the sterile, artificial confines of the Hollywood sound stage.” (Richard J. Anobile, 1975) 

This, I believe, is a very true and accurate statement. In 1939, filmmaking technologies were beginning to advance rapidly, due to the continuing advances of camera and recording equipment. Film companies were now able to move out of the studio, and begin filming outside in a real life and accurate setting. However, this meant that scenes, such as when we see the characters on the inside of the “Stagecoach”, could be moved into an internal filming setting and controlled more effectively to create a more successful piece of art. In 1939, Hollywood was able to make this possible, due to the discovery of ‘Rear-Screen Projection’, for which a camera crew would film an outdoor location which would then be projected behind the actors indoors as they acted the scene.  

  

Most notably however, 1939 saw the beginning of John Ford’s working relationship with actor John Wayne; a man who had only previously been seen in minor acting roles in less popular films.  

What was it which Ford saw in Wayne, and why did he continue to use him in the vast majority of his productions after 1939?  

What did he believe Wayne brought to the screen, that no one else could; and why was their friendship so successful?  

  

Something which I plan to explore next time. 

John Wayne (left) and John Ford (right)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Online References 

 Ford. J. ‘John Ford (1894-1973)’. Wikipedia.org. Accessed: March 2010. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Ford

Stagecoach (1939). Wikipedia.org. Accessed: March 2010. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stagecoach_(1939_film)

Wayne. J. ‘John Wayne (1907-1979)’. Wikipedia.org. Accessed: March 2010. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Wayne 

Filmography 

Stagecoach (1939) Directed by John Ford. United States: United Artists.

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