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

The stagecoach is brought to a halt and Ringo jumps off the lead horse, runs to the carriage, and opens the door to find Hatfield telling everyone his last dying words before he slumps over dead. [Hatfield is the only one of the nine passengers who doesn't survive the trip to Lordsburg.] Hatfield refers to his father, a judge and a respected member of the Southern aristocracy, keeping this fact a secret until the moment of his death. His final sentence is left incompleted:

If you see Judge Greenfield, tell him his son...

The coach and its battered passengers are escorted into Lordsburg by the cavalry troops. That night, Lucy arrives first in a separate wagon and is removed on a stretcher. Inquisitive about the condition of her husband, she is assured: "He's all right. Don't you worry." Dallas carries the newborn in her arms off the wagon. Undeserving of Dallas's concern, Lucy offers a hopeless, feeble attempt to reach out and thank her for her unselfish help [repeating the same kind of offer that Dallas had earlier made in the coach]:

Lucy: If there's ever anything I can do for...
Dallas: I know.

With understanding and acceptance, Dallas acknowledges the tremendous social class differences between them.

When the stagecoach pulls into town surrounded by cavalry troops, Ringo is recognized by some friends of the Plummer boys. In the local saloon, the brutish Luke Plummer (Tom Tyler) is found playing cards in the El Dorado saloon. At his poker table, a fatalistic, prophetic bit of dialogue is heard - Plummer holds a 'dead man's hand' in the poker game:

Dealer: Aces and eights.
Another player: 'Dead man's hand,' Luke.

[Two "Aces" and two "eights" was the poker hand held by Wild Bill Hickok in Deadwood on Aug. 2, 1876 just before he was shot and killed.] With a grim look on his face, Luke stands, his face becoming blackened by shadows after being told: "Ringo Kid's in town. Yeah. The driver of the stage." He throws down his "aces and eights" and orders: "Cash in." He bolsters his courage with a stiff belt of whiskey at the bar. The other customers look warily at him, sensing that a shootout is about to happen.

Outside, the wounded Peacock is also carried off on a stretcher for more medical attention. As he parts from Dallas, he affectionately offers an invitation. The joke about remembering Peacock's name is repeated for the last time:

Peacock: If you ever come to Kansas City, Kansas, I want you to come out to see us.
Dallas: Thanks, Mr - uh -?
Peacock: Peacock.

Buck turns to Ringo on top of the stagecoach and with an empathic look, tells him: "Well? Lordsburg." Ringo is assured that Curley will see to Dallas' well-being at his across-the-border ranch:

Ringo: Curley? How long will they give me for breakin' out?
Curley: Oh, about another year.
Ringo: You know where my ranch is?
Curley: Yeah.
Ringo: Will you see that she gets there all right?
Curley: Dallas.
Ringo: Yeah. This is no town for a girl like her. Will ya do it?
Curley: Sure.

The town's sheriff (Louis Mason) surprises Gatewood. When the self-righteous banker demands that the handcuffs be put on Ringo, the handcuffs are put on him instead. Word has been transmitted from Tonto to Lordsburg that he had made off with the funds:

Sheriff: Get my man through all right?
Curley: I don't need them [referring to the handcuffs].
Gatewood: If you don't want to lose your prisoner sir, you'd better take care of him yourself.
Sheriff: What's your name, mister?
Gatewood: My name is Gatewood. Ellswood H. Gatewood.
Sheriff: Oh Gatewood. You didn't think they'd have the telegraph wires fixed, did you?

After he has gained the Marshal's respect in saving everyone's life against the Apaches and repaying his debt to society, an honorable Curley, realizing the need for frontier justice, gives Ringo ten minutes to say his last good-byes to Dallas and to take care of business by facing the Plummer gang:

Ringo: Can I meet you back here in ten minutes? I gave you my word Curley. I ain't goin' back on it now.
Curley (handing Ringo his unloaded rifle): No ammunition.
Ringo: I lied to you Curley. (He removes his hat to reveal his last remaining bullets, admitting his lie.) I've got three left.

As a hero, he will only need three bullets to kill three men. Dallas and Ringo walk down a wooden porch in town toward the location of her honky-tonk house in the red-light district. He wants to know where she lives, but she is afraid to reveal her ultimate destination and the shame of her profession:

Dallas: Good night Kid.
Ringo: Is this where ya live?
Dallas: No.
Ringo: I gotta know where you live, don't I?
Dallas: No, don't come any further. It's all been a crazy dream. Went out of my mind just hoping. Say goodbye here Kid.
Ringo: We ain't never gonna say goodbye.

Luke Plummer's brothers Ike (Joe Rickson) and Hank (Vester Pegg) join him in the saloon, where they drink and mentally prepare for the showdown. Doc Boone walks calmly into the saloon, stands at the end of the bar, and has a drink while staring at Luke. The dark-eyed gunman stares back and asks for a shotgun from the bartender.

Cross cut with this scene, Ringo follows Dallas as she walks through some of the seedier sections of town. Their walk is accompanied by the sounds of a honky-tonk piano. They stop outside a brothel where a ramp leads down into some small dark shacks. He acknowledges knowing about her past and where she is going, while she reveals her heart of gold:

Dallas: Well Kid, I, I told you not to follow me.
Ringo: Dallas. I asked you to marry me, didn't I?
Dallas (with tears streaming down from her eyes): I'll never forget you asked me Kid. That's somethin'.
Ringo: Wait here.

When Luke is about to leave the saloon with a shotgun, Doc Boone steps in front of him and boldly blocks his way in a face-to-face confrontation:

Doc Boone: I'll take that shotgun Luke.
Luke: You'll take it in the belly if you don't get out of my way!
Doc Boone: I'll have you indicted for murder if you step outside with that shotgun.

After pausing and flashing an evil grin, Luke places the gun on the bar, shoves Doc Boone aside with "We'll attend to you later," and steps to the dusty street with his two brothers. From an upstairs balcony, one of Luke's saloon girls tosses down a rifle. In the Lordsburg newspaper office, one of the writers predicts the morning's headlines: "The Ringo Kid was killed on Main Street in Lordsburg tonight, and among the additional dead were..." The streets are quickly cleared of pedestrians and wagons for the gunfight.

In the climactic shoot-out scene (one of the shortest, most abbreviated shootouts in any Western on record, but still stunning), the standard for future standoffs on dusty Western streets was set. From a long-shot in the distance, the Plummers move forward cautiously in the dark. Ringo's dark silhouette advances into the scene in the foreground, with the three Plummers in the dark, shadowy background at the end of the same street. They advance step by step toward each other. In a low-level frontal shot after taking five steps forward - each accentuated by loud chords on the soundtrack, Ringo throws himself to the ground while firing three shots.

The next image is of Dallas located in another part of town outside the brothel. She hears the volley of shots and then screams. Her first emotional reaction is to run toward the direction of the shots, crying out: "Ringo, Ringo, Ringo." She fears the worst. Luke Plummer staggers unsteadily into the saloon filled with a crowd of spectators who have watched the shootout through the saloon door. They watch him pass by, thinking he has been the victor in the shoot-out. Seconds later, Plummer melodramatically falls dead to the saloon floor.

Dallas turns when she hears the sounds of approaching bootsteps on the wooden sidewalk coming closer toward her. From the side of the frame in the dark shadows, Ringo emerges and she rushes forward to embrace him, grateful that he is alive. Curley drives up in a buckboard (with Doc Boone sitting in the back). Ringo is ready to give himself up and be apprehended:

Curley: You ready Kid?
Ringo: (He nods.) Thanks Curley. (Curley gets out of the buckboard.) Curley's gonna see that you get to my place across the border. (Ringo seats himself in the buckboard.) Well, goodbye Dallas. (He shakes her hand.)
Dallas: Goodbye.
Curley (to Dallas): Maybe you'd like to ride a ways with the Kid?
Dallas: Please. (She steps into the buckboard.)

Instead of arresting Ringo, Curley and Doc, benevolently conniving together, shoo the team of horses away with rocks and shouts, wishing the pair best wishes and a hopeful future as they are given a reprieve to head toward Ringo's ranch across the border - a fresh chance to begin a new life in Mexico. Doc Boone reflects philosophically, giving a final observation about civilization and respectability:

Doc Boone: Well, they're saved from the blessings of civilization.
Curley: Yeah. (Curley removes his sheriff's badge.) Doc? I'll buy ya a drink.
Doc Boone: (After a long pause) Just one.

Shoulder to shoulder, they head down the street, as the camera cuts to a view of the buckboard riding toward a desert sunrise filled with majestic clouds. During the ending credits, "I Dream of Jeannie With the Light Brown Hair" plays again.

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