Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Best Chatsworth Movies -- Stagecoach (1939)

Stagecoach (1939) is an epic Western story directed by John Ford, and starring Claire Trevor and John Wayne (in his breakthrough role). 

The plot is a tale about an incongruous mixture of Western characters riding an east-bound stagecoach from Tonto, Arizona Territory--through hostile Apache Indian territory--to Lordsburg, New Mexico Territory.

In the film Ford skillfully blends scenes of Monument Valley (which would become a signature for him) with scenes filmed at Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, and other southern California locations (photo above courtesy of Bruce Hickey).

Few people know that John Wayne's introduction in Stagecoach--where he boards the Stage as the Ringo Kid (photo above)--takes place directly in front of the Garden of the Gods (the best known rock feature on Chatsworth's Iverson Ranch). 


Ford defines the relationships and draws out tension between characters with an extraordinary cast including (left to right in the photo above): 

Dallas (Claire Trevor), a dance hall girl driven out of town by intolerant members of the "Law and Order League." 

Ringo Kid (John Wayne), a fugitive hunting outlaw Luke Plummer to avenge the deaths of his father and brother.

Buck (Andy Devine), the stagecoach driver.

Hatfield (John Carradine), a gambler and southern gentleman.

Lucy Mallory (Louise Platt), a pregnant lady traveling to meet her cavalry officer husband.

Doc Boone (Thomas Mitchell), a philosophizing drunken town doctor.

Henry Gatewood, (Berton Churchill), a banker absconding with $50,000 he embezzled from his bank.

Samuel Peacock (Donald Meek), a timid traveling whiskey drummer.

Curly Wilcox (George Bancroft), a Marshal--riding shotgun guard--while searching for the Ringo Kid.

Luke Plummer (Tom Tyler)(photo above), a killer and outlaw hiding in Lordsburg.  

Lieutenant Blanchard (Tim Holt)(photo above), a young U.S. cavalry officer.


Stagecoach features some of the most daring stunts ever filmed with the legendary Yakima Canutt.  In the photo above he is doubling Wayne as he performs his famous 'transfer stunt' (jumping onto a team of running horses).

Yakima Canutt's 'drop stunt' (falling between horses and being dragged under the stagecoach).

Extraordinary stunt scenes included falls caused by the 'Running W', a contraption that brings down a galloping horse by attaching a wire, anchored to the ground, to its fetlocks.  It launches the rider forward in a spectacular fashion.  It was invented by Yakima Canutt, but is now outlawed because so many horses killed or injured with its use.

Iverson Ranch scenes:

From an Iverson Ranch movie historian's point of view it doesn't get much better than the splendid scenes with Hook Rock as the stagecoach arrives at the Dry Fork station (screenshot above).

The arrival of the stagecoach at the Apache Wells station with the Garden of the Gods in the background is nothing short of spectacular (screenshot above).

Finding the stagecoach station burned out at Lee's Ferry with Batman Rock at the far left.


The eventual meeting between the Ringo Kid and Luke Plummer in Lordsburg leads to a classic main street shootout.  The drama leading to the face down begins when Plummer draws Aces and Eights (the dead man's hand) in a card game, and escalates when Doc Boone demands Plummer not carry a scattergun into the fight.

Academy Awards:

Stagecoach was nominated for seven academy awards: Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Music (Scoring), Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography (Black-and-White), Best Director, Best Film Editing, and Best Picture.  

It won two oscars.  Thomas Mitchell won for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (photo above -- Claire Trevor and Thomas Mitchell as Doc Boone).  For Best Music (Scoring) the Oscar went to Richard Hageman, W. Franke Harling, John Leipold and Leo Shuken.

If you've never seen Stagecoach (1939) it is a must see.  It's my personal all-time favorite Western.  It stars my favorite silverscreen hero John Wayne, and was directed by John Ford (the best director ever in my opinion).

For more information about the Chatsworth filming locations visit and learn about my books: Rendezvous at Boulder Pass: Hollywood's Fantasyland © 2010 (ISBN: 978-0-615-21522-8) and Reel Cowboys of the Santa Susanas © 2008 (ISBN: 978-0-615-21499-3)

No comments:

Post a Comment