Stagecoach

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Stagecoach Movie Poster Image
Classic John Wayne Western masterpiece promotes tolerance.
  • NR
  • 1939
  • 96 minutes

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 8+
Based on 1 review

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

This morally, psychologically complex story throws together eight characters from vastly different walks of life. As we come to know them, we realize that the most so-called respectable, morally upright of these characters are actually the most lowdown, selfish, greedy, and judgmental. The outcasts, bandits, drunks, prostitutes and weaklings turn out to be trustworthy, noble, and helpful. The movie teaches not to judge a book by its cover.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ironically, the best role models in this movie are the outlaw who recently escaped jail, the prostitute, and the drunken doctor. During a crisis, they are the ones who behave selflessly, show empathy, and work to solve problems. Most characters come out the end with three-dimensional character traits, with both good and bad sides, except the most "respectable" of them all: the banker. He is the most selfish and greedy of the bunch, and apparently beyond redemption.

Violence

Many characters carry guns or rifles. There's a long battle between the Apache and the characters on the stagecoach, with whizzing bullets and flying arrows. Some major characters die, and some blood can be seen.

Sex

A major character, Dallas, is apparently a prostitute, though this is never actually discussed. She is treated as a morally bankrupt outcast. Another character is pregnant and delivers a baby, though -- again -- none of this is shown or mentioned.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A major character, the doctor, is a drunk. He drinks constantly, and sobers up only to help deliver the baby. As soon as that task is completed, he begins drinking again. He pals around with a "whiskey drummer" (i.e. salesman) and drinks up all his samples. He also smokes cigars, and other characters are seen smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Stagecoach is a classic, landmark western from 1939, a masterpiece from director John Ford that featured John Wayne in his breakout role. This movie was designed for grown-ups, exploring complex psychological, moral and character issues through its simple story. Happily, it's also crackerjack entertainment, with plenty of tense conflict, humor, and action; it's also famous for one of the most dangerous stunts ever filmed. Younger kids may be bored, but for others that have never seen a western before, this is a grand place to start. It was nominated for seven Oscars and won two.

User Reviews

Parent of a 9 and 11 year old Written byH2Clark May 16, 2014

We were looking for a Western...

We watched this with my 11 & 9yo boys. The 9 yo repeatedly said he had trouble keeping the characters straight because they were in black and white! - F... Continue reading
Adult Written byElizabeth Darcy October 19, 2011

Classic John Wayne movie with some more intense parts

Good movie, although the plot is a little complicated and may be hard for younger kids to follow. The violence is a little heftier than the average old Western,... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old April 17, 2018

Great movie

This movie is a very good story about a group of people in a stagecoach trying to get through this place called 'Apache Hills' without being killed by... Continue reading

What's the story?

Several characters from all walks of life board a stagecoach, bound for Lordsburg. We meet a Confederate gambler (John Carradine), a fine lady (Louise Platt), a pompous banker (Berton Churchill), a whisky salesman (Donald Meek), a drunken doctor (Thomas Mitchell), and a disgraced prostitute (Claire Trevor). There's a gabby driver (Andy Devine), and an armed marshal at his side (George Bancroft). Along the way, they pick up the escaped bandit the Ringo Kid (John Wayne). Word is out that Geronimo is on the warpath, and that the Apache may attack at any point. Worse, tension arises from within the coach as the different social classics begin to mix. Unfortunately, they must make an unexpected stop when one of the passengers falls ill...

Is it any good?

STAGECOACH is a supremely entertaining and engaging movie experience. John Ford was already an Oscar winner for best director when he made this movie, and it was clear even at the time that he had advanced the Western genre to a new level. It featured psychologically complex characters with an ironic twist on society's most and least accepted figures. Additionally, Ford ventured into Monument Valley for the first time, and instinctively used the Western landscape as an artistic, emotional, and physical enhancement for the onscreen drama, rather than just a backdrop.

The movie features some of the most dangerous stunts ever filmed, and they still dazzle. The archetypal characters are more than just archetypes; they still make an emotional connection. And nothing is more timely than the embezzling bank manager, who still manages to feel entitled, thanks to his high social standing. Stagecoach was a masterpiece in 1939, and it's a masterpiece now.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the movie's violence. Is it thrilling, or disturbing? How do the deaths of these characters affect you? How does the movie achieve these different emotions?

  • Is it ironic that the lowest of the characters are the ones with the most integrity? What might cause these characters to have more empathy and tolerance than their more successful, more socially accepted passengers?

  • In 1939, there was a motion picture code that prevented the movie from showing or discussing anything about prostitution or pregnancy. What may have been the reasons for this?

  • What are the hallmarks of the Western genre? Why was it so popular, and why is it less popular today?

Movie details

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