Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
Stagecoach (1939)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

Along the way after rounding a turn, a rifle shot is heard, and a tracking shot zooms in (losing focus for a moment) for a large clear closeup of Ringo Kid (John Wayne in his first major western role, the role that made him famous, launching him as the most durable Western hero) from the perspective of the moving stagecoach. The camera rapidly tracks in on his face. Ringo is twirling and re-cocking his rifle in one hand, shouting out: "Hold it!", while holding his saddle in the other hand. He is standing in the middle of the desert by the trail, stranded without a horse. Ringo is wearing a paneled, placket-front shirt with a neckerchief, and jeans with its pants legs rolled up outside of the boots. Sympathetic to Ringo, Buck excitedly calls out: "Hey look, it's Ringo!" Marshal Curley raises his rifle and points it at Ringo. The fugitive requests joining them as "another passenger" to Lordsburg because his horse became lame, and then is promptly put under arrest. He surrenders his rifle to Curley only when the Cavalry rides up from behind.

Sitting on the floor and crammed in the middle of the crowded stagecoach, Ringo is between three passengers on each side of him.

Gatewood: (sneering down) So you're the notorious Ringo Kid.
Ringo Kid: My friends just call me Ringo, a nickname I had as a kid. Right name's Henry.
Doc Boone: Seems to me I knew your family Henry. Didn't I fix your arm once when you were, uh, bucked off a horse?
Ringo Kid: Are you Doc Boone?
Doc Boone: I certainly am. Ah let's see. I'd just been honorably discharged from the Union Army after the War of the Rebellion.
Hatfield: You mean the War for the Southern Confederacy sir.
Doc Boone: I mean nothing of the kind sir.
Ringo Kid: That was my kid brother broke his arm. You did a good job Doc, even if you was drunk.
Doc Boone: Thank you sir. Professional compliments are always pleasing. What happened to that boy whose arm I fixed?
Ringo Kid: He was murdered.

Ringo's last word silences and stuns the stage's passengers, as it rolls on through the large rock formations and buttes of the Valley. Bothered by the smoke from Doc Boone's cigar, Hatfield insists that it be extinguished for Lucy Mallory's sake, and Doc apologizes to Lucy: "Excuse me ma'am. Being so partial to the weed myself, I sometimes forget that it disagrees with others." Although Doc is courteous to Lucy, he is not civil toward Hatfield, believing he is not above shooting a man in the back:

Hatfield: A gentleman doesn't smoke in the presence of a lady.
Doc Boone: Three weeks ago, I took a bullet out of a man who was shot by a gentleman. The bullet was in his back!
Hatfield (feeling insulted): You mean to insinuate...
Ringo Kid (to keep the peace): Sit down mister. Doc don't mean no harm.

At the Dry Fork way station, the passengers alight, and Lucy learns that her husband's troops have left to join the soldiers at Apache Wells. Overbearing, Gatewood is insistent that even without troop support, the coach must continue toward Lordsburg:

Gatewood: (To Buck) Well look here driver. You started this coach for Lordsburg and it's your duty to get us there. (To Lieutenant Blanchard) And it's your duty young man to come along with us.
Lt. Blanchard: It's my duty Mr. Gatewood to obey orders. I'm sorry sir...
Gatewood: I call this a desertion of duty. I'll report you to your superior officer. And if necessary, I'll take the matter up with Washington.
Lt. Blanchard: That's your privilege sir. But if you give us any trouble here, I'll have to put you under restraint.
Gatewood: Now don't lose your temper. Don't lose your temper.

Marshal Curley suggests taking a vote among the passengers inside the way station to decide whether they will proceed or return with the soldiers who have brought them. Ringo must remind Curley to treat Dallas with the same respect and care as that received by Mrs. Mallory. Curley determines that there are seven "Aye" votes and only one "No" vote:

  • Lucy: "I've traveled all the way here from Virginia. I'm determined to get to my husband. I won't be separated any longer."
  • Dallas: "What difference does it make? It doesn't matter."
  • Gatewood: "I vote that we go on. I demand. I'm standing on my legal rights."
  • Hatfield cuts a deck of cards, looks at an Ace of Spades, and votes: "Lordsburg." [The superstitious card that dooms its player appears one more time at the conclusion of the film]
  • Doc Boone: "I'm not only a philosopher sir, I'm a fatalist. Somewhere, sometime, there may be the right bullet or the wrong bottle waiting for Josiah Boone. Why worry when or where?...Having that philosophy sir, I've always courted danger...
  • Mr. Peacock: "I'd like to go on, brother. I want to reach the bosom of my dear family in Kansas City, Kansas as quickly as possible. But I may never reach that bosom if we go on, so under the circumstances you understand brother, I think it best we go back to the bosoms, I mean the soldiers.
  • Curley votes "Aye" for Buck and then votes proxy for the Kid: "You go with me." Kid affirms his desire to get to Lordsburg: "Ain't nothin' keepin' me out of Lordsburg, Curley."

One of the film's most expressionistic scenes involves the seating of the passengers at the way station's long table for a mid-day dinner meal. As dinner is served, Ringo nonchalantly, inadvertently and persuasively helps Dallas (ignorant that she is a prostitute) into a chair before sitting down, treating her with respect. She is positioned with Lucy (the lady) on her right at the head of the table and Ringo on her left. Ringo's audacious action by placing Dallas too close to Lucy offends the Southern woman's sense of propriety. It also prompts Hatfield's over-exaggerated chivalrous protection and courtliness to emerge. Noticing her discomfort and frozen posture, Hatfield rudely offers pious Lucy another seat further away: "May I find you another place Mrs. Mallory? It's cooler by the window." Arrogantly, Lucy and Hatfield move and relocate to the far end of the table (joined by Gatewood), leaving outlaw Ringo and whore Dallas mutually isolated and sitting together at the other end. With a good-natured spirit, Ringo expresses indifference toward the way they were snubbed:

Ringo: Looks like I've got the plague, don't it?
Dallas: No, no it's not you.
Ringo: Well, I guess you can't break out of prison and into society in the same week. (He starts to rise from his place but Dallas holds him down.)
Dallas: Please, please.

To the soft tune of "I Dream of Jeannie With the Light Brown Hair" on the soundtrack (Lucy Mallory's theme music), Lucy and Hatfield talk intimately and nostalgically about the Old South, exchanging thoughts about their shared Southern heritage and how he served with her father during the Civil War:

Lucy: You've been very kind. Why?
Hatfield: The world I live in, one doesn't often meet a lady Mrs. Mallory.
Lucy: Have you ever been in Virginia?
Hatfield: I was in your father's regiment.
Lucy: I should remember your name. You're Mr. Hatfield.
Hatfield: That's what I'm called, yes.

In a different conversation at the other end of the table, Dallas talks with Ringo:

Dallas: Why do you look at me like that?
Ringo: I'm just tryin' to remember. Ain't I seen you someplace before ma'am?
Dallas: No, no you haven't.
Ringo: I wish I had though.
Dallas: I know you, I mean, I know who you are. I guess everybody in the territory does.
Ringo: Yep. Well, I used to be a good cowhand but things happen.
Dallas: Yeah, that's it. Things happen. Now they'll take you back to prison.
Ringo: Not 'til I finish a job in Lordsburg.
Dallas: But you can't. You're going there as a prisoner.

The passengers are notified that the stagecoach is ready to continue its journey toward Apache Wells. In the open desert at a crossroads, the Cavalry escort veers off to the left, leaving the stagecoach unprotected.

In the driver's seat as the coach lurches ahead, Curley and Buck argue over Ringo's revenge and "job in Lordsburg":

Buck: If I was you, I'd let him shoot it out.
Curley: At who?
Buck: Luke Plummer and the Kid. There'd be a lot more peace in this territory if that Luke Plummer was so full of lead he couldn't hold his liquor.
Curley: I ain't sayin' I don't share your sentiments Buck, but you're a born fool.
Buck: Well I know that.
Curley: In the first place, Luke would kill the Kid in a gunfight. In the second place, if Luke did get shot, he's got two brothers just as ornery as he is. Naw, the only safe place for Ringo is in the pen, and I aim to get him there all in one piece.
Buck: Well, I'll be doggoned if I didn't do you an injury Curley. I figured you were after the re-ward.
Curley: Re-ward? Why the Kid's ol' man and me was friends. We used to punch cattle together. Besides, I could use that five hundred in gold.

As the temperature gets colder, Doc Boone solicitously wraps a scarf around Peacock's neck and carefully wipes his eyes. Gatewood pompously berates the "impetulance of that young lieutenant" and their lack of protection from the Army. Clutching his large briefcase (carrying his embezzled bank funds amounting to $50,000) in front of him, the blustering, embezzling banker extends his criticism toward government regulation of banks [an obvious criticism of Roosevelt's New Deal at the time of the film's release]:

I don't know what the government is coming to. Instead of protecting businessmen, it pokes its nose into business. Hmm. Why, they're even talking now about having bank examiners. As if we bankers don't know how to run our own banks. Why Boone, I actually have a letter from a popinjay official saying they were going to inspect my books. I have a slogan that should be emblazoned on every newspaper in the country. 'America for Americans.' The government must not interfere with business! Reduce taxes! Our national debt is something shocking! Over one billion dollars a year! What this country needs is a businessman for President.

Doc Boone responds vacuously: "What this country needs is more fuddle." Then, the doctor samples more of Peacock's whiskey from his liquor case as the whiskey-drummer protests feebly. During the coach's journey, snow appears on the ground, the temperature drops, and Curley asks Buck why he is taking the mountain road. The cowardly Buck responds: "I'm usin' my head. Those breech-clad Apaches don't like snow." Inside the coach, Dallas offers her soft shoulder for Lucy to lean on if she would change seats, but Lucy rebuffs her, declining the compassionate offer:

Dallas: Maybe you'd like to sit next to me. You could put your head on my shoulder.
Lucy: No thank you.

To illustrate mounting tensions, Hatfield chivalrously pours water from a canteen into a silver cup for Lucy, but when water is offered to Dallas, he takes his cup back and she is given the canteen by Ringo, who apologizes regretfully: "Sorry, no silver cups."

After passing through a dust storm, the coach arrives at its next stop, Apache Wells, arriving there after seven hours on the road. The longest and most central episode in the film is the 24-minute sequence at this staging post. The sequence includes the first of two major events or catalysts that reveal the true characters of the travelers and level some of their class distinctions - the childbirth (the second is the Indian attack). In both of the major events or crises of the film, the disrespectable characters prove their gallantry, selflessness and heroism, while the respectable characters are full of hollow rhetoric and fraudulence.

Four vaqueros greet the stagecoach. Chris (Chris-Pin Martin), the Mexican proprietor of the way station, tells them that the cavalry troops which were there previously have already left:

Chris: The soldiers have gone.
Lucy: Where's Captain Mallory? Where's my husband? Where is he?
Chris: You his wife I think?
Lucy: Where is he? Did he go with his men?
Chris: Si, senora...what you call a skirmish with Apaches last night. Soldiers take Captain Morales (sic) to Lordsburg. I think he get hurt, maybe.
Lucy: Badly?
Chris: Si, senora. I think so.

Shortly after learning the tragic news of her husband's injuries in a "skirmish with Apaches," Lucy faints and collapses on the floor, going into labor. Curley carries her to a back room of the staging post, while Dallas and Ringo summon Doc Boone to help. Gatewood is selfishly heard complaining again, this time about the inconvenient delay in getting to Lordsburg:

Gatewood: A sick woman on our hands! That's all we needed. Now we're in a fine fix my friends. It's a fine country we're living in. The army has no right to leave a public place like this unprotected.
Ringo: Looks to me like the Army's got its hands pretty full, Mister.

Doc Boone stumbles around intoxicated, knowing that he will soon be called upon to come out of his drunken stupor, take professional responsibility and deliver the baby. Meanwhile, Hatfield's anger at the doctor and concern for Lucy flare up together:

Hatfield: A fine member of the medical profession. Drunken beast!
Doc Boone (removing his coat): Coffee. Give me coffee. Black coffee...Blacker, stronger. Keep 'er comin' Curley...(Curley and Ringo try to sober him up.)
Hatfield: Isn't that drunken swine sober yet?
Curley: He's doing the best he can.
Hatfield: Will you hurry!

Peacock rises and gasps in terror when Chris' Apache wife Yakima (Elvira Rios) enters the room. Gatewood expresses similar racist prejudice:

Peacock: Savages!
Chris: That's my wife Yakima, my squaw.
Peacock: Yes, but she's, she's savage.
Chris: Si, senor, she's a little bit savage, I theenk.
Gatewood: There's something funny about this. That woman's an Apache!
Chris: Sure, she's one of Geronimo's people. I theenk, maybe not so bad to have an Apache wife, eh? Apaches don't bother me, I theenk.

Acting as a midwife, Dallas and Yakima assist Doc during the labor and childbirth. Hatfield, Ringo and Curley anxiously and impatiently wait outside the back room. Later that night, Yakima sings a Spanish song [an exile's lament for the native land and a love song] outside to the Mexican stagepost hands:

Al pensar en ti
Tierra en que naci
Que nostalgia siente mi corazon
En mi soledad
Siento alivio y consuelo en mi dolor.

Las notas tristes de esta cancion
Me traen recuerdos de aquel amor
Al pensar en el
Vuelve a renacer
La alegria en mi triste corazon.

She abruptly interrupts herself in the middle of the song, telling the four vaqueros (loosely translated from Spanish): "OK boys, get goin'!" They ride off with all the spare horses:

Buck: It's them vaqueros, they've run away!
Curley: Yeah, with the spare horses.

That night, a coyote howls off in the distance as Ringo lights the cigarette in his mouth over a lantern. Hatfield plays solitaire and Curley smokes his pipe. Suddenly the faint sound of the cries of a new-born baby are heard and everyone turns around. Buck confuses the crying sound with the coyote howls: "Them coyotes give me the creeps. It sounds, well it sounds just like a baby." First, Dallas' shadow appears in the doorway of the back room, and then she steps out tenderly cradling a baby girl in her arms. The men surround her to take a look as she tells them with a beaming smile on her transfigured face: "It's a little girl." Her maternal instincts awakened, Dallas continues to look at Ringo. In one of the film's most memorable images, Ringo gazes back at Dallas nestling the newborn baby in her arms - deciding at that moment, presumably, that she has the proper maternal instincts for marriage.

Doc Boone also emerges from the room, having proved himself equal to the task of delivering a baby successfully - he is congratulated by Peacock as they walk over to a whiskey bottle to share in a well-deserved drink. Curley wants to offer a loud cheer: "Come on boys. Three cheers for ol' Doc Boone," but Peacock insists on quiet for Mrs. Mallory's sake. Doc sets down his glass, exclaiming: "Phew!"

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