Sunday, October 11, 2009


Since Stagecoach was filmed in 1939, I figured it wouldn't have any ASJ connections in it. The only reason I decided to watch it was because it's considered a classic Western. But as soon as I heard that raspy, twangy voice, I knew I'd been wrong. And right there, receiving third billing in the credits, just after Claire Trevor and John Wayne, was Andy Devine!

There's a reason this movie is considered a classic: the stock characters, the plot, the location--it's all there but elevated to a very level by the performances of the actors. Andy Devine plays a stagecoach driver who, although of course much younger than the character he played in ASJ (the sheriff in The Men That Corrupted Hadleyburg)--he is thinner and has dark hair, which is obvious even though the movie is in black and white--is still clearly recognizable.

The group of passengers he is carrying includes a crooked banker, a Southern gambler, a drunken doctor, a meek liquor salesman, a "tart with a heart" (as a writer friend of mine once said and which I, in the true spirit of ASJ, shamelessly recycle here), a lady too sophisticated to talk to the other woman, a marshal, and a pretty good bad guy. As the group travels to its destination, various encounters and adventures occur until, after they have finally arrived, there is a climactic scene in the middle of the town street with a bad guy named Plummer (another ASJ connection).

The accompanying audio commentary by Scott Eyman, a film historian who also assisted Robert Wagner with his autobiography (which I recently read, before I was aware of his work in the Western genre), is very useful in situating Stagecoach in the context of its time and among other Westerns. The background information he provides about how John Ford, the director, worked with John Wayne in the role that made him a star, is not to be skipped. At 100 minutes it's a long movie, for a Western, but one I highly recommend.