Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
Stagecoach (1939)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

In a beautifully framed and lighted sequence, Ringo sees Dallas stroll away down a dark corridor and through a lighted doorway [a famous Ford trademark pre-dating The Searchers (1956)] to the outside of the station to get fresh air - he follows after her without her knowing. On the way down the corridor, Chris appears with an oil lamp in his hands, and as Ringo lights his cigarette (with the white cigarette smoke reflected in the dark shadows), he provides him with information about the Plummers in Lordsburg - a foreboding of the film's final show-down: "Oh they're together. I saw them...Say, you crazy if you go. I theenk you stay away Kid. Three against one is no good."

Ringo and Dallas begin to fall in love with each other, as he explains the necessity of his mission to Lordsburg to avenge the murders of his father and brother. She admits having had to fend for herself at a young age following the death of her parents. Impressed by the way she handled Lucy's baby, he proposes to her, lacking social prejudice against her profession:

Ringo: You oughtn't to go too far, Miss Dallas. Apaches like to sneak up and pick off strays. You, uh, visitin' in Lordsburg?
Dallas: No, no I have friends there. And maybe I can find work. Say look Kid. Why don't you try to escape? Why don't you get away?
Ringo: I aim to, in Lordsburg.
Dallas: Why Lordsburg? Why don't you make it for the border now?
Ringo: My father and brother were shot down by the Plummer boys. Guess you don't know how it feels to lose your own folks that way.
Dallas: I lost mine when I was a kid. It was a massacre in Superstition Mountain.
Ringo: That's tough. Especially on the girl.
Dallas: Well you gotta live no matter what happens.
Ringo (haltingly and awkwardly): Yeah, that's it. Look Miss Dallas. You got no folks. Neither have I and well, maybe I'm takin' a lot for granted but I watched you with that baby, that other woman's baby. You looked, well...well I still got a ranch across the border. It's a nice place, a real nice place - trees and grass, water, there's a cabin half built. A man could live there and a woman. There you go.
Dallas (feeling shameful about being a prostitute): But you don't know me. You don't know who I am.
Ringo: I know all I want to know. There you go.
Dallas (rushing off): Oh don't talk like that.

Taken aback, Dallas runs off with her tears betraying her deep feelings for Ringo. Curley walks up toward Ringo: "What are you doin' out here Kid? Stick close to the reservation."

The next morning, Chris runs about and awakens the tired group, shouting that his Apache wife Yakima, his/their insurance against Apache threats, has also run away [to her homeland or to a lover?]. Curley reaches for his pistol, sits up, and then yanks on his leg which is shackled to Ringo's leg. Chris regrets that Yakima is gone with his rifle and horse: "Sure I can find another wife, but she take my rifle and my horse...I love her so much. I beat her with a whip and she never get tired...I can find another wife easy, yes, but not a horse like that."

Gatewood frantically reaches for his money bag/valise and finds it missing. When it is located under Buck's head as a pillow, Gatewood overreacts angrily: "Look, I told you to keep your hands off my things." The banker also has no concern for the condition of the new mother and protests any inconvenient delay in their trip to Lordsburg:

Gatewood: Well, what are we wasting time for? Let's make a break for it.
Hatfield: We've got a sick woman to think of.
Gatewood: You want her to stay here and be butchered with the rest of us?
Hatfield: (snapping back) Why don't you think of somebody else for once in your life?

Following Ringo's suggestion that he look in on the new patient and the baby (nicknamed "Little Coyote" by Buck), Doc Boone refuses to join in a drink offered by Gatewood. The doctor looks in on Lucy, finding Dallas at her bedside and learning that she sat up all night holding the baby:

Doc Boone: You're up early, Dallas.
Lucy: She didn't go to bed, Doctor. I'm afraid she sat up all night while I slept.
Dallas: Oh, I slept alot in the chair. Well anyway, it was nice to stay awake and hold the baby.

Outside Lucy's room, Dallas shares news of Ringo's proposal with the doctor - agonizing over her decision to marry Ringo:

Dallas: Ringo asked me to marry him. Is that wrong for a girl like me? If a man and a woman love each other, it's all right, ain't it Doc?
Doc Boone: You're gonna be hurt child, worse than you've ever been hurt. Don't you know that boy's headed back for prison? Besides, if you two are goin' to Lordsburg together, he's gonna know all about you.
Dallas: He's not goin' to Lordsburg. All I want is for you to tell me it's all right.
Doc Boone: Gosh child. Who am I to tell you what's right or wrong? All right. Go ahead. Do it if you can. Good luck. (Tears form in Dallas' eyes.)

Then, Doc Boone suggests that the group depart on the stage a day later to allow Lucy to regain her strength: "Both doing nicely. She's a real soldier's wife, that young lady." When Gatewood argues against any further delay, Doc asks him: "Where were you when the stork came last night Gatewood?"

Having been told that he can find Dallas in the kitchen making coffee, Ringo comes up to her to pursue their earlier conversation. She has been touched by his gallantry toward her, but is more concerned about his impending shoot-out with the Plummer gang and their potential romantic and domestic future. Believing that they may work out together, she proposes a non-violent solution - escape:

Ringo: I, uh, laid awake most of the night, wondering what you'd have said if Curley hadn't busted in. Guess you was up kind of late too. Hear ya movin' around. You didn't answer what I asked ya last night.
Dallas: Look Kid, why don't you try to escape? There's a horse out there in the corral. Curley won't go after ya, because he can't leave the passengers in a fix like this.
Ringo: I've got to go to Lordsburg. Why don't you go to my ranch and wait for me?
Dallas: Wait for a dead man. Haven't got a chance. With three against one when the Plummer's swore that you killed their foreman, they got you setup. It'll be three against one in Lordsburg.
Ringo: Well, there's some things a man just can't run away from.
Dallas: How can you talk about your life and my life when you're throwin' them away? Yeah, mine too. That's what you're throwin' away if you go to Lordsburg.
Ringo: What do ya want me to do?
Dallas: Would it make us any happier if Luke Plummer was dead? One of his brothers will be after you with a gun. We'd never be safe. I don't want that kind of life Ringo.
Ringo: Well, I don't see what else I can do.
Dallas: Go now, get away. Forget Lordsburg. Forget the Plummers. Make for the border and I'll come to you.
Ringo: Do you mean that?
Dallas: Yes I do.
Ringo: Will you go with me Dallas?
Dallas: Oh I can't leave Mrs. Mallory and the baby. I'll come to you from Lordsburg, I swear it.

Dallas provides Ringo with a rifle and helps him prepare to ride off, encouraging him: "Hurry Ringo." He makes a break for it just as Curley realizes he is missing, but he rides only a few yards, dismounts from his horse, and then stares off into the distant hills at dawn. Although Dallas blocks Curley's way, Curley confronts Ringo and handcuffs him - Ringo tells him they are unnecessary because he will not be running away. There are Apache war/smoke signals rising from the distant hills. His fateful decision to remain with the vulnerable stagecoach party and confront the Plummers in Lordsburg is made for him by the Indian intervention.

The stagecoach is hastily prepared for departure at the start of the next sequence. Curley carries Lucy in his arms to the coach while Dallas carries the newborn. The coach moves along as Gatewood selfishly bickers with everyone about the urgency of getting to the ferry - he desperately fears that as more time passes, the dangerous predicament he faces with the Indians and the law will only get worse:

Gatewood: You don't see any signs of them. They strike like rattlesnakes. (To Hatfield) If you hadn't insisted on waiting for her, we'd have been across the ferry by this time.
Hatfield: You talk too much Gatewood.
Gatewood: Your threats don't phase me Hatfield. You're nothing but a tin-horn gambler.
Hatfield: How would you like to get out and walk?
Gatewood: You can't put me out of a public conveyance.
Doc Boone: Now, now, gentlemen, gentlemen.
Ringo: Take it easy Gatewood. We may need that fightin' before we get to the ferry.
Gatewood (to Ringo): You wouldn't be much good in a fight, you jailbird!
Hatfield: Oh leave the Kid alone. He's handcuffed.
Peacock: Gentlemen please. Let's not forget the ladies. Bless them. Let's have a little Christian charity one for the others.

At the ferry, there are ominous signs that the Apache Indians have already raided and burned everything to the ground - the occupants have been killed and the ferry has been destroyed. Curley unlocks the Kid's handcuffs: "I need you. If you give me your word you won't try to escape again." Hatfield covers the half-naked body of a dead woman with his coat. He looks up and sees the sun glinting off Indian figures far away on a hillside. The horse-driven coach is driven next to the river where hollowed-out logs are strapped to each side of the coach's chassis to make it float across.

After a successful fording of the river, the coach proceeds on its final leg of the trip to Lordsburg through open country, tiny, vulnerable, and dwarfed by the giant mesas of Monument Valley. In a spectacular sweeping shot from high up on a ridge, the camera pulls back from the coach and pans to reveal a band of Indian warriors on horseback poised and ready to attack the stage from a cliff-top. Geronimo's belligerent face appears in close-up - and then another menacing Apache face. This is the beginning of an eight-minute sensational sequence involving the second major turning point in everyone's lives - the legendary scene of the Indian attack and the final test of the group's ability to survive. But the passengers think they are out of danger and their journey is almost completed. Gatewood apologizes to everyone: "Sorry I flew off the handle Hatfield. My apologies Doctor. No hard feelings I hope." The Doctor drinks another toast to their camaraderie, even including Gatewood:

Well, now that the danger's passed...Mr. Peacock. And ladies and gentlemen, since it's most unlikely that we'll ever have the pleasure of meeting again socially, I'd like to propose a toast. Major, Gatewood, Ringo, to your health.

As the doctor places his whiskey bottle to his lips, a swishing, zinging sound of an arrow is heard - the camera swings around to show that the arrow has pierced the chest of Peacock - he falls forward. Apache warriors swarm down from the ridges in a ferocious pursuit of the stage. Curley returns gunfire with his rifle, causing a few of the Indians to fall. The tempo of the film increases dramatically. Buck whips the frenzied team of horses, hurtling the thundering coach across the broad expanse of the plains of the dry salt flats, as the Indians get closer and closer. Curley hands a gun holster to Hatfield who fires at the Apaches. Ringo scrambles on top of the coach to join in the defense. Inside the coach, Doc Boone bandages Peacock's wound as Gatewood cries in a mad panic: "Get me out of here, I tell you."

In one of the most spectacular, hair-raising, dangerous stunts ever recorded on film during the chase across the dry alkali flat, one of the Apaches (Enos Yakima Canutt) leaps from his mount alongside the moving stage onto the lead horses of the stagecoach's team (a stagecoach is pulled by three pairs of horses: the lead, the swing, and the wheel teams). As he tries to grab the reins of the lead horse to control the stagecoach, Ringo shoots at him with his rifle from over Buck's shoulder. The Apache is struck, falling down among many sets of thundering hooves, hanging on to the rig's shaft or tongue (the projection on the bottom front of the wagon that connects the vehicle to the horses) while dragging along the ground. Then after being shot a second time, the Apache warrior lets go - the six horses and the stage's carriage roll right over his prone body. [The camera pans back to show that it isn't a stunt dummy - the wounded Indian rolls aside and climbs slowly to his knees.]

With a wild look in his eyes, Hatfield picks off one Indian after another. The doctor also fires away, successfully hitting a few of the Apaches on horseback. Suddenly, Buck is shot in the right arm and loses control of the reins. When the stage begins to slow down in the face of the savage attack, Ringo nobly defends the passengers' safety with his heroic self-sacrifice and courage. He (again stuntman Canutt) jumps into the driver's seat, then to the wheel team (the first pair of horses), then to the swing team (the next pair), and then to the lead team. Straddling the two horses, he finally mounts one of them to grab the reins, steer them from the wagon tongue and increase the speed of the runaway stage.

Inside the coach, Dallas clutches the baby close to her as everyone begins to run out of ammunition. The end looks near. She looks down at the newborn child and then buries her head in its blanket-wrapped body. Hatfield breaks open his revolver and sees only one bullet left in the gun's chamber. He moves the chamber with the bullet to the firing position. The barrel of his pistol protrudes toward the huddled close-up of Lucy crying and praying frantically in the last moments of the attack. Obviously a mercy killing, Hatfield intends to save her from an inevitable capture, torture (and sexual violation), and death by savages. [The theme tune for Lucy - "I Dream of Jeannie" - plays briefly.] He pauses, cocks the gun, and a gunshot is heard. The gun drops and falls, signaling his death. He is saved from firing his last bullet into her head only by being shot himself seconds before the sound of a Cavalry bugle is heard in the distance, blowing the charge. [The charge music and the bugle are heard long before the cavalry is sighted.] It slowly dawns on Lucy's face that she is saved. The Indians are forced to halt and then retreat in flight in the opposite direction, when the cavalry arrives to rout the savages.

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