Stagecoach Rifle 1Stagecoach is a 1939 American Western film directed by John Ford, starring Claire Trevor and John Wayne in his breakthrough role. The screenplay, written by Dudley Nichols, is an adaptation of "The Stage to Lordsburg", a 1937 short story by Ernest Haycox. The film follows a group of strangers riding on a stagecoach through dangerous Apache territory.

An enduring masterpiece Stagecoach revolutionized the western, elevating it from B movie to the A-list and establishing the genre as we know it today. Film critics have said that Stagecoach is not only responsible for creating the heroic, rugged, self-reliant Wayne persona, it also is arguably the first exemplar of the modern film.

Stagecoach was the first of many Westerns that Ford shot using Monument Valley, as a location and the movie did much to popularize it. Scenes from Stagecoach, including a famous sequence introducing John Wayne's character the Ringo Kid, blended shots of Monument Valley with shots filmed on the Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, California, RKO Encino Movie Ranch, and other locations. STAGECOACH Poster

Monument Valley is part of the vast Navajo reservation near the Utah/Arizona border, the desolate landscape with its striking sandstone buttes and mesas, lends a mythic quality to the film, dwarfing the vulnerable stagecoach party in the presence of eternal and impersonal Nature. It came to embody the very idea of the West for John Ford, who used Monument Valley in many of his later films

In 1995, this film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in their National Film Registry.

Although Ford had made many Westerns in the silent film era, he had never previously directed a sound Western. Between 1929 and 1939, he directed films in almost every other genre, including Wee Willie Winkie (1937), starring Shirley Temple.

Ford declined to use Wayne in any of his projects during the 1930s despite their close friendship, telling Wayne to wait until he was "ready" as an actor. In 1938, Ford invited Wayne, who was already a good friend, on a weekend boat trip to read the screenplay. "I'm having a hell of a time deciding whom to cast as the Ringo Kid," he said. "You know a lot of young actors, Duke. See what you think." Wayne suggested Lloyd Nolan. "Nolan?" Ford asked incredulously. "Jesus Christ, I just wish to hell I could find some young actor in this town who can ride a horse and act." The next day, as the boat pulled into the harbor, Ford declared, "I have made up my mind. I want you to play the Ringo Kid." It was likely that Ford had Wayne in mind for the role from the beginning.

Before production, John Ford shopped the project around to several Hollywood studios, all of which turned him down because big budget Westerns were out of vogue, and because Ford insisted on using John Wayne in a key role in the film. Wayne previously appeared in only one big-budget western, The Big Trail (1930, directed by Raoul Walsh), which was a huge box office flop. (Wayne, by his own estimate had said that between 1930–1939, he worked, appearing in about eighty "Poverty Row" westerns.)

Ford was having trouble finding a studio to produce the film, primarily due to budget and a casting of unknown Wayne. Walter Wanger had the same reservations about producing an "A" western and even more about one starring John Wayne. He was also concerned Ford had not directed a western since the silent days, the most notable of which had been The Iron Horse (1924) and 3 Godfathers (1926). Wanger said he would not risk his money unless Ford replaced John Wayne with Gary Cooper and brought in Marlene Dietrich to play Dallas

Ford refused to budge; it would be Wayne or no one. Eventually they 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, a more well-known name than John Wayne in 1939.vFollowing the film's release on March 2, 1939, Ford's faith in John Wayne was rewarded as the film met with immediate critical and trade paper success.  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'".

Stagecoach has been lauded as one of the most influential films ever made. Orson Welles argued that it was a perfect textbook of film-making and claimed to have watched it more than 40 times in preparation for the making of Citizen Kane. The film made a profit of $297,690.

Stagecoach received seven Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Score, Best Art Direction and Best Supporting Actor (Thomas Mitchell). Even in the face of the Gone With the Wind juggernaut at that year's Academy Awards ceremony, it won two awards - for Thomas Mitchell's performance as Dr. Josiah Boone and for the score, a deft combination of folk tunes, including the hymn "Shall We Gather at the River," which seems to have been used in every subsequent Ford Western and is darkly parodied in Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch (1969).

Legendary stuntman Yakima Canutt also deserves to be noted for his contributions to the picture. One scene, which required the stagecoach full of passengers to be floated across a river, was deemed impossible by technicians to pull off and John Ford considered removing it from the script altogether. Canutt, however, suggested using hollow logs tied to the coach; the air would give them increased buoyancy, offsetting the weight of the fully loaded coach. In addition, an underwater cable was used to help pull the stagecoach. Canutt's plan worked, and the scene was retained for the film. But it is for Canutt's magnificent (and dangerous) stunts on this film that he is remembered today. In the most striking of these, he plays an Indian who rides alongside the coach at full speed - approximately forty miles per hour - and transfers from the horse he is riding to a horse on the team. After he is shot by Wayne, he falls between the two lead horses and hangs from the rig before letting go and allowing the horses and the stagecoach to pass over him. The stunt, which was broken up into two segments for the shoot, required precise timing and movements since any miscalculations or slips on Canutt's part could have been deadly. Steven Spielberg made an homage to this scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) when Indiana Jones slides down the hood of a moving car, passes underneath it and is dragged behind.