Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB. USA, 1939. Walter Wanger Productions. Screenplay by Dudley Nichols, based on the story by Ernest Haycox. Cinematography by Bert Glennon. Produced by John Ford. Music by Gerard Carbonara. Production Design by Alexander Toluboff. Costume Design by Walter Plunkett. Film Editing by Otho Lovering, Dorothy Spencer. Academy Awards 1939.
The western that started it all; certainly the genre was already well established as the most popular in the cinema canon since the silent days, but John Ford put his and John Wayne‘s legends on the map with the popularity of this richly satisfying oater. Oddly enough, it’s considered a milestone in the genre despite not playing into standards in the way that Destry Rides Again did the same year. Here it’s more like Grand Hotel in the Wild West as a hired stagecoach carries a host of varied characters, including a saloon gal (Claire Trevor), a lonely wife, a crooked bank manager, a runaway fugitive (Wayne in his eightieth film) and an alcoholic doctor (Thomas Mitchell, earning an Academy Award for his role) as they navigate the treacherous journey from settlement to settlement in a western America that has barely been tamed. It climaxes with a very exciting (and, of course, highly racist) chase when Indians are on their trail, and then calms down with a neat resolution as Wayne faces down his enemy at his intended destination. Outstanding characters, editing, cinematography and whipcrack direction.