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