I will begin by discussing John Fords use of characters to set a template for all movie westerns. It has been said that Stagecoach was ‘the first adult western’ this is because he brought intimacy to his characters. The story is simple enough, a group all with different backgrounds and characteristics, find themselves on the stagecoach to Lordsburg, each for a different reason. There are ten focused characters that get onboard the stagecoach and on route they pick up another character that joins them on the journey his named as Ringo Kid who is on a mission for revenge.
These characters are Lucy Mallory who is heavily pregnant (I as the audience did not realise until she was in labor and had the baby) and she wants to join her husband an officer with the US cavalry, Mr. Hatfield who is a gambler and joins because he had one look at the lady and then leaped aboard. Doctor Boone and Miss Dallas join for similar reasons because they are both forced out of town, he for being an alcoholic and her due to being a prostitute, she was hounded away by a so-called legion of decent women in the town. The arrogant bank manager Mr. Gatewood who is on the run from his domineering wife, and takes with him the banks assets in his bag. Mr. Peacock was encouraged to join by Dr Boone for his case full of whiskey samples as his a whiskey salesman. The stagecoach driver is named Buck, and his a good natured well rounded fool and riding shotgun is the sheriff named Curly.
The selection of characters created by Ford produce a microcosm of the Wild West and the technique of stereotyping is used and many western films have copied this technique. Ford gave women more of a role within the film, where as women are normally used and shown to make coffee in a bar for example but here the character named Lucy Mallory is decent and upstanding and Miss Dallas is a town-whore always to be found in the saloon offering her services as well as being the entertainment for the males. Even the smallest roles are fleshed out with distinguishing detail. No one ever stands around in the background not having any activity when they are not talking which has made a change in westerns. In the film when the characters sit down to eat, prejudices surface, with Lucy Mallory refusing to sit near Dallas or Ringo, in which these two society misfits get on well together and discuss each others past.
However when Dallas comes in to the room and enters with Lucy Mallory’s baby girl, (another passenger) she suddenly becomes a lady to the rest of the passengers. Ford uses the technique of binary opposites where good vs. evil, with Ringo actually becoming the good and the Plummer brothers in Lordsburg are the evil. Ringo is a good character because he treats Dallas as an equal where as the others do not and the Plummer brothers are evil because they in the past had killed Ringo’s father and brother. I believe the beauty of Stagecoach is that it combines, strongly drawn characters with frantic action and awe-spiring panoramas. Ford gives the characters fully-rounded personalities which have depth, emotion and a feeling of past.
John Ford had technical control when he directed camera shots which passed naturally from long-shot to close-up, smoothly handing out plot details as and when the audience wants them. His style of film-making has been tremendously influential; in particular, Ford is a pioneer of location shooting and the extreme long shot which frames his characters against a vast, harsh and rugged natural terrain. His action work is great, particularly that of stuntman Yakima Canutt when he leaps from horse to horse with total disregard for his safety. The screen is alive with human activity/action, both emotional and actual, and humour is rarely far away. As usual for Westerns of this period, the Red Indians (now known as Native Americans), are the enemy which gave the story a huge lift of fiery action. Ford’s other great technique in the film was setting up a shootout between the Ringo Kid and the Plummer brothers who murdered his family so that Ringo could get the revenge his being determined to get, and then not showing the shoot-out, this left me as the audience mysterious into if Ringo survived and made me really get a liking to the character and left me hoping he would show up alive…and he did which made a great ending to a superb film.
Ford used great scenery and setting for this film and personally had a positive effect on me and for the rest of westerns to be produced thereafter. Ford defined images of the American West with some of the most beautiful and powerful cinematography shot in the Stagecoach film, this was said to be a huge influence to later western films. Set in the wide and dusty western frontier, where the decrepit shanty towns cower before the magnificence of Monument Valley (this is John Fords favourite location for his films other such films he filmed he are; The searchers, She wore a yellow ribbon, and Fort Apache) which really captured the scene and atmosphere. The setting is also very stereotypical of westerns movies with the cactus’s etc this is where Ford has used the technique of prop which makes the film more realistic. Ford’s evocative use of the territory for his Westerns has defined the images of the American West so powerfully that Orson Welles (American director) once said that other film-makers refused to shoot in the region out of fears of plagiarism.