Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Ford
Screenplay byDudley Nichols
Based on"The Stage to Lordsburg"
1937 Collier's
by Ernest Haycox
Produced byWalter Wanger
CinematographyBert Glennon
Edited by
Music by
Walter Wanger Productions
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release dates
  • February 2, 1939 (1939-02-02) (Los Angeles)[1]
  • March 3, 1939 (1939-03-03) (U.S.)[1]
Running time
96 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1,103,757[2]

Stagecoach is a 1939 American Western film directed by John Ford and starring Claire Trevor and John Wayne in his breakthrough role. The screenplay by Dudley Nichols is an adaptation of "The Stage to Lordsburg", a 1937 short story by Ernest Haycox. The film follows a group primarily composed of strangers riding on a stagecoach through dangerous Apache territory.

The film has long been recognized as an important work that transcends the Western genre. In 1995, the film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in their National Film Registry.[3] Still, Stagecoach has not avoided controversy. Like most Westerns of the era, its depiction of Native Americans as simplistic savages has been criticized.[4]

Stagecoach was the first of many Westerns that Ford shot in Monument Valley, on the ArizonaUtah border in the American Southwest. Many of the movies Ford filmed there also starred John Wayne. Scenes from Stagecoach, including a sequence introducing Wayne as the Ringo Kid, blended shots of Monument Valley with those filmed on the Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, California, RKO Encino Ranch, and other locations. As a result, geographic incongruities appear, including the closing scene where Ringo (Wayne) and Dallas (Trevor) depart Lordsburg in southwestern New Mexico by way of Monument Valley.


In June 1880, a stage driver and four passengers prepare to board the coach from Tonto, Arizona Territory, to Lordsburg, New Mexico. Among them are Dallas, a prostitute driven out of town by the "Law and Order League"; the alcoholic Doc Boone; snobbish Southerner Lucy Mallory, who is travelling to join her cavalry officer husband; and diminutive whiskey salesman Samuel Peacock.

Buck, the stage driver, looks for his shotgun guard, and Marshal Curley Wilcox tells him the man is off searching for the Ringo Kid. Ringo has broken out of prison after hearing that his father and brother were murdered by Luke Plummer. Buck tells Curley that Ringo is heading for Lordsburg. Knowing that Ringo has vowed vengeance, Curley decides to ride shotgun on the stage.

Before the stagecoach sets out, U.S. Cavalry Lieutenant Blanchard announces that Geronimo and his Apache warriors are on the warpath, and that the small cavalry troop will provide an escort only to Dry Fork. Upon seeing Mrs. Mallory's distress, chivalrous gambler Hatfield offers her his protection to Lordsburg and climbs aboard. At the edge of town, Henry Gatewood, an arrogant banker, flags down the stage and boards.

Further along the road, the stage comes across the Ringo Kid, stranded when his horse went lame. Though Curley and Ringo are friends, Curley takes Ringo into custody and crowds him into the coach. When they reach Dry Fork, they learn the expected cavalry detachment has gone on to Apache Wells. Buck wants to turn back, but most of the party votes to proceed. The group is taken aback when Ringo, unaware of Dallas' past, invites her to sit at the main table for lunch. As they are eating the genteel Hatfield reveals that he served in the Confederate Army under the command of Mrs. Mallory's father in Virginia.

At Apache Wells, Mrs. Mallory learns that her husband had been wounded in battle with the Apaches. She faints, and stunning the group, goes into labor. Doc Boone sobers up and delivers the baby with Dallas assisting. Later that night, Ringo asks Dallas to marry him and live on a ranch he owns across the border in Mexico. Afraid to reveal her past, she is evasive. The next morning, she accepts, but is unwilling to leave Mrs. Mallory and the newborn; instead, she gives Ringo the rifle Curley had taken and prods him to escape, promising to meet him there later. Before Ringo can leave he sees smoke signals heralding an Apache attack and returns to custody.

The stage reaches Lee's Ferry, which the Apaches have murderously sacked. Curley uncuffs Ringo to help lash logs to the stagecoach and float it across the river. Seemingly beyond danger, they're attacked. A long chase follows, with some of the party injured in the fight. Down to his last bullet, Hatfield is pulling back the trigger to humanely dispatch Mrs. Mallory when he is mortally wounded. The 6th U.S. Cavalry rides to the rescue.

At Lordsburg, Gatewood is arrested for attempting to abscond with his bank's funds. Mrs. Mallory learns that her wounded husband will fully recover. She thanks Dallas, who gives Mrs. Mallory her shawl. Dallas then begs Ringo not to confront the three Plummer brothers, but he is determined to have his vengeance on them. As they walk through town he reiterates his desire to marry her. Luke Plummer, who is playing poker in one of the saloons, hears of Ringo's arrival and summons his brothers to join him in killing Ringo.

Ringo guns all three down in a shootout, then surrenders to Curley, expecting to go back to prison. As Ringo takes his seat on a buckboard, Curley invites Dallas to ride with them to the edge of town. But when she gets aboard, Curley and Doc stampede the horses, letting the couple speed off together toward Ringo's ranch across the Mexican border.





The screenplay is an adaptation by Dudley Nichols of "The Stage to Lordsburg," a short story by Ernest Haycox. The film rights to the work were bought by John Ford soon after it was published in Collier's magazine on April 10, 1937.[5] According to Thomas Schatz, Ford claimed that his inspiration in expanding Stagecoach beyond the bare-bones plot created by Haycox was his familiarity with another short story, "Boule de Suif" by Guy de Maupassant,[6] although Schatz believes "this scarcely holds up to scrutiny".[7] Ford's statement also seems to be the basis for the claim that Haycox himself relied upon Guy de Maupassant's story. However, according to a Haycox biographer, there is no direct evidence of Haycox being familiar with Maupassant’s tale, especially as he was documented as going out of his way to avoid reading the work of others that might unconsciously influence his writing, and he focused his personal reading in the area of history.[5]

Before production, Ford shopped the project around to several Hollywood studios, all of which turned him down because big budget Westerns had been out of vogue since the silents, and because Ford insisted on using then-B-movie actor John Wayne in the key role in the film. Independent producer David O. Selznick finally agreed to produce it, but was frustrated by Ford's indecision about when shooting would begin, and had his own doubts over the casting. Ford withdrew the film from Selznick's company and approached independent producer Walter Wanger about the project. Wanger had the same reservations about producing an "A" Western and even more about one starring John Wayne. Ford had not directed a Western since the silent days.[8] Wanger said he would not risk his money unless Ford replaced John Wayne with Gary Cooper and brought in Marlene Dietrich to play Dallas.[9]

Ford refused to budge; it would be Wayne or no one. Eventually the pair compromised, with Wanger putting up $250,000, a little more than half of what Ford had been seeking, and Ford would give top billing to Claire Trevor, better known than John Wayne at the time.[10]


Cinematographer Bert Glennon and director John Ford

The members of the production crew were billeted in Kayenta, in Northeastern Arizona, in an old CCC camp. Conditions were spartan, production hours long, and weather conditions at the 5,700 ft (1,700 m) elevation were extreme, with constant strong winds and low temperatures. Nonetheless, director John Ford was satisfied with the crew's location work, which took place near Goulding's Trading Post on the Utah border, about 25 miles from Kayenta.[11] Additional scenes were filmed in Monument Valley locations, as well as the Iverson Movie Ranch and the RKO Encino Ranch.[12] Stagecoach was the first of many Westerns that Ford shot using Monument Valley as a location, many of which also starred John Wayne. Anatopic incongruencies of landscape and vegetation are thus evident throughout the film, up to the closing scene of Ringo and Dallas departing Lordsburg, in the Chihuahuan Desert of southwestern New Mexico, by way of the unmistakable topography of Monument Valley's Colorado Plateau location.


The film was released on 2 March 1939, and met with immediate critical and trade paper praise.[13] The picture cemented John Wayne's standing as an A-list leading man, and made a profit of $297,690.[2] Cast member Louise Platt, in a letter recounting the experience of the film's production, quoted Ford on saying of Wayne's future in film: "He'll be the biggest star ever because he is the perfect 'everyman'".[14] On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 100%, based on 47 reviews, with an average rating of 9.3/10. The site's consensus reads: "Typifying the best that the Western genre has to offer, Stagecoach is a rip-roaring adventure given dramatic heft by John Ford's dynamic direction and John Wayne's mesmerizing star turn."[15]

Stagecoach has been lauded as one of the most influential films ever made.[16][17] Orson Welles argued that it was a perfect textbook of filmmaking and claimed to have watched it more than 40 times in preparation for the making of Citizen Kane.[18] In 1995, the film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in their National Film Registry.[3]

The film has been recognized as transcending the Western genre. Robert B. Pippin has observed that both the collection of characters and their journey "are archetypal rather than merely individual" and that the film is a "mythic representation of the American aspiration toward a form of politically meaningful equality."[19] Nevertheless, its depiction of Native Americans is not above criticism.[4] Writing in 2011, Roger Ebert noted, "The film's attitudes toward Native Americans are unenlightened. The Apaches are seen simply as murderous savages; there is no suggestion the white men have invaded their land."[20]

Awards and nominations

Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
Academy Awards Outstanding Production Walter Wanger Nominated [21]
Best Director John Ford Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Thomas Mitchell Won
Best Art Direction Alexander Toluboff Nominated
Best Cinematography – Black-and-White Bert Glennon Nominated
Best Film Editing Otho Lovering and Dorothy Spencer Nominated
Best Scoring Richard Hageman, W. Franke Harling, John Leipold, and Leo Shuken Won
National Board of Review Awards Top Ten Films 3rd Place [22]
Best Acting Thomas Mitchell Won
National Film Preservation Board National Film Registry Inducted [23]
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Director John Ford Won [24]
Online Film & Television Association Awards Hall of Fame – Motion Picture Inducted [25]

American Film Institute

Re-releases and restoration

The film was originally released through United Artists, but under the terms of its seven-year-rights rule, the company surrendered distribution rights to producer Walter Wanger in 1946. Numerous companies have held the rights to the picture in the years since. The film's copyright (originally by Walter Wanger Productions) was renewed by 20th Century Fox, which produced a later 1966 remake of Stagecoach. The rights to the original 1939 film were subsequently acquired by Time-Life Films during the 1970s. The copyright has since been reassigned to Wanger Productions through the late producer's family under the Caidin Trust/Caidin Film Company, the ancillary rights holder. However, distribution rights are now held by Shout! Factory, which in 2014 acquired Jumer Productions/Westchester Films (which in turn had bought the Caidin Film holdings after the folding of former distributor Castle Hill Productions). Warner Bros. Pictures handles sales and additional distribution.

The original negative of Stagecoach was either lost or destroyed. Wayne had one unscreened positive print that director Peter Bogdanovich noticed in Wayne's garage while visiting. In 1970, Wayne allowed it to be used to produce a new negative, often seen at film festivals.[29] UCLA fully restored the film in 1996 from surviving elements and premiered it on cable's American Movie Classics network. The previous DVD releases by Warner Home Video did not contain the restored print but rather a video print held in the Castle Hill/Caidin Trust library. A digitally restored Blu-ray/DVD version was released in May 2010 via The Criterion Collection.

Lone Ranger radio play

The theme of the movie has been reproduced as a Lone Ranger radio episode "The Last Coach West", which played August 22, 1945.[30] Most main characters in the movie had a counter-part in the radio play.

Character counter-parts
Movie character Radio character
The Ringo Kid, protagonist, escaped from prison The Waco Kid, suspected bank robber
Dallas, prostitute driven out of town Joessy, dance-hall girl driven out of town
Doc Boone, alcoholic doctor Doctor Taylor, alcoholic doctor
Lucy Mallory, pregnant Phyllis Alden, wounded by arrow
Luke Plummer, killed Ringo Kid's father and brother John Gall, framed Waco Kid
Marshal Curley Wilcox, arrested The Ringo Kid Sheriff Beaker, arrested The Waco Kid
Henry Gatewood, a banker absconding with embezzled money John Gall, loan-shark banker, frames Waco Kid
Samuel Peacock, whiskey salesman Horace Pennypacker, whiskey salesman
Buck, stage driver Pete Morley, stage driver

The plot of the radio play paralleled that of the movie quite closely in spite of the character changes, with exception of the Lone Ranger and Tonto heroically saving the stagecoach occupants from Geronimo's warriors.

The radio play run time was only about 22 minutes, less than one quarter of the movie's 96. Consequently, character and plot development had to be accelerated, which resulted in weakening the character's motivation for certain actions (such as the Lone Ranger somehow managing to single out a solitary stagecoach amid a wide Indian uprising).[30]





See also


  1. ^ a b "Stagecoach: Detail View". American Film Institute. Retrieved February 9, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c Matthew Bernstein, Walter Wagner: Hollywood Independent, Minnesota Press, 2000 p439
  3. ^ a b "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Retrieved May 11, 2020.
  4. ^ a b Aleiss, Angela (2005). Making the White Man's Indian: Native Americans and Hollywood Movies. Westport, CT: Praeger. pp. 60. ISBN 9780275983963.
  5. ^ a b Ernest Haycox Jr. (2001). "Ernest Haycox (1899–1950)". Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission. Retrieved February 6, 2012.
  6. ^ Thomas Schatz (2003). Stagecoach and Hollywood's A-Western Renaissance (PDF). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 21–47. ISBN 0-521-79331-9. ((cite book)): |work= ignored (help)
  7. ^ Schatz, p. 27.
  8. ^ Nick Clooney (November 2002). The Movies That Changed Us: Reflections on the Screen. New York: Atria Books. p. 194. ISBN 0-7434-1043-2.
  9. ^ Clooney, pp. 196–197.
  10. ^ Clooney, p. 197.
  11. ^ Crew Letter from Kayenta, Arizona, December 1938, Archived January 16, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ "John Wayne - Stagecoach". Museum of Western film History. Archived from the original on November 7, 2020. Retrieved November 1, 2020.
  13. ^ Buscombe, Edward. Stagecoach. British Film Institute, 1992. pp. 76–82
  14. ^ Letter, Louise Platt to Ned Scott Archive, July 7, 2002, Archived January 16, 2013, at the Wayback Machine pp. 39, 40
  15. ^ "Stagecoach". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved November 22, 2023.
  16. ^ Hannan, Brian (October 11, 2019). The Gunslingers of '69: Western Movies' Greatest Year. McFarland. p. 3. ISBN 978-1-4766-7935-8.
  17. ^ Hine, Robert V.; Faragher, John Mack (January 1, 2007). Frontiers: A Short History of the American West. Yale University Press. p. 203. ISBN 978-0-300-11710-3.
  18. ^ Welles, Orson, and Bogdanovich, Peter. This is Orson Welles. Da Capo Press, 1998. pp. 28–29. "After dinner every night for about a month, I'd run Stagecoach... It was like going to school."
  19. ^ Pippins, Robert (2010). Hollywood Westerns and American Myth. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. pp. 3, 5. ISBN 9780300172065.
  20. ^ Ebert, Roger (August 1, 2011). "John Ford. John Wayne. History".
  21. ^ "The 12th Academy Awards (1940) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on July 6, 2011. Retrieved July 11, 2011.
  22. ^ "1939 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved March 1, 2024.
  23. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Retrieved March 1, 2024.
  24. ^ "1939 New York Film Critics Circle Awards". New York Film Critics Circle. Retrieved March 1, 2024.
  25. ^ "Film Hall of Fame: Productions". Online Film & Television Association. Retrieved March 1, 2024.
  26. ^ "The Winners," in "America's 100 Greatest Movies: 100 YEARS...100 MOVIES," June 1998, American Film Institute, retrieved February 16, 2022
  27. ^ American Film Institute (June 17, 2008). "AFI Crowns Top 10 Films in 10 Classic Genres". Archived from the original on August 18, 2008. Retrieved June 18, 2008.
  28. ^ "Top 10 Western". American Film Institute. Retrieved May 10, 2014.
  29. ^ Clooney, p. 191.
  30. ^ a b "Sound file" (MP3). Retrieved July 17, 2022.
  31. ^ "'Stagecoach' Is Star Time Play On WHP Tonight". Harrisburg Telegraph. Harrisburg Telegraph. November 30, 1946. p. 17. Retrieved September 12, 2015 – via Open access icon