At last, people of 1939, John Ford makes his big comeback to the western genre he pioneered after a relatively sprawling hiatus of, like, four months or something. Ford made a lot of films, and arguably too many of them were westerns, but people were still excited when Ford got back into them after 13 years, especially when it turned out to also be his first western with sound. Oh yeah, because you just can't take John Wayne seriously unless you hear his voice... is what I'm saying "in a sarcastic tone" now that Wayne is tragically dead. Yeah, Wayne may have had that silly Iowa accent, but I still wouldn't have wanted to mess with him, especially when he was young and... well, about as fresh-faced as that thick forehead was going to allow him to be. I hope the people of the '30s were getting used to him, because this wouldn't be his last rodeo with John Ford, although Ford, not quite realizing that at the time, took a little while to get Wayne in this film's plot. Everyone rambles on about Wayne's presence, but remember, people, that, as the poster tagline will tell you, this is about "9 strange people", even though it's not exactly a "powerful story". You better believe that the film is decent, but don't entirely believe the praise they put into the poster, for a number of reasons.
This is something of a fluffy affair, with a light heart and humor that has, since 1939, grown dated and cheesy, with even the conflicts and plot being histrionic, maybe even out-and-out thin. If the narrative isn't superficial with its subtlety, it's simply superficial, with depth limitations that were all too common in fluffy flicks such as this one at the time, yet could be compensated for if it wasn't for developmental shortcomings. I reckon exposition is adequate, but there's little real attention to characterization which is already lacking in range altogether, partly because there is a little too much to flesh out in merely 96 minutes. This runtime isn't aggressively brief, but it's still a little too short for John Ford to have time to establish a firm sense of adventure, which is a crying shame, seeing as how the film doesn't have much going for it outside of the adventure. With all of my rambling about how thin storytelling is, superficiality is all but fitting, as the story concept, no matter how lively, is lacking in true meta and tension, of which there is still enough for the other shortcomings to kind of aggravate. With all my talk about how there's only so much to talk about in regards to this film, maybe storytelling could have been inspired enough to mold a rewarding western, as there are highlights in inspiration which reflect full potential, but in the end, whether it be because of the shortcomings of the time or simple missteps, the final product slips as an underwhelming, maybe even kind of forgettable classic. With that said, the effort holds enough of your attention to entertain plenty, perhaps even immerse with its visuals.
This is the first of John Ford's westerns to be shot in Monument Valley, which sees quite the breakout as a hot spot for western film art direction, being sweeping enough by its own right, and decorated well enough with timely production designs, to adventurously draw you into the time portrayed in and scope of this film. No matter how superficial the storytelling gets, production value at least succeeds in reinforcing a sense of adventure that this narrative ought to thrive on, seeing as how the plot concept is dynamic and subtly layered enough to potentially compensate for a lack of dramatic meat. That compensation is lost, but not entirely, for even Dudley Nichols's and Ben Hecht's script's tastes in colorful humor and set pieces have endured through all of the cheesy dating to entertain, even on paper. As for the execution, there is also something a little lacking about John Ford's direction, and yet, there is also enough color to the storytelling to hold your attention just fine, with style that is sometimes focused enough to hold some tension. Mind you, the tension only comes into play when the conflict stands, and make no mistake, conflict is limited, but it is there, and until it shows up, the film still proves to be an entertainingly well-told adventure, with its share of memorable plot points and characters. Of course, the characters might only be so relatively memorable because of their portrayals, which don't have much material to work with, and may even be a little dated, yet have stood the test of time well enough for just about everyone to charm with his or her own distinct charisma and, for that matter, chemistry, which drives comradery. Comradery is important in a film this adventurous, yet still so intimate, and no matter how thin characterization is, the performers draw you into the heart of this flick, but not alone, as there is also enough heart to dated storytelling to thoroughly entertain in a classic, if thin fashion.
In conclusion, there is some cheesily fluffy humor and plotting, which join developmental shortcomings in reinforcing a certain superficiality to the telling of an already borderline inconsequential story, thus, the final product falls as underwhelming, but through grand production value, reasonably colorful scripting and direction, and charismatic performances, a sense of adventure is done enough justice to make John Ford's "Stagecoach" a pretty fun western classic, despite its many shortcomings.
2.5/5 - Fair