March 7, 1939 [Stagecoach]

The camera, unable to contain itself, rushes toward John Wayne as the Ringo Kid, the focus slipping, regaining just in time for him to half-smile, half-frown at us--or something; his face is at once inexpressive and enigmatic--which is fine, since he is the best of all Western types: the outlaw-hero, whose past lights him from behind, and catches up with him in the final reel--but he's ready for it.

Well before we find Ringo at the top of the rise, Stagecoach already has packed up the entire West and crammed it into the Wells Fargo coach: the gambler and fallen woman, the soldier's wife and drunken doctor, the crooked banker and kindly Easterner--and finally Ringo, who brings the Territories with him, the desert air filling their lungs, dust-storm and cool breeze both. I could have watched them in there all day, with no climax, no resolution, just the West passing through, me with it, finally reconciled with the brutality and silly posturing--while Andy Devine drives us on, his scratchy whine sounding just like a tumbleweed, if tumbleweeds could talk.

And okeh: the inevitable--and protracted--flight-and-shootout with Geronimo and his chisel-faced Apaches is exciting--and the Cavalry dutifully rescues, and so on; and that scene is necessary, if only to kill the South once more (the Gambler dying like a gentleman, leaving word for his father) and to test Ringo's mettle and to punish Christian charity with the first arrow; but even all that--even the finale, Ringo and Dallas united, all forgiven (and all badmen gunned down)--pales before the little world the movie contains in that stagecoach, drawing lines of class and conscience, birth and death.

And one more touch: that crooked banker, sounding all the world like every argument against the New Deal and the desire to reign in untrammeled greed, his little speech about leaving business alone, letting them run the show--all the while the money he steals tucked in his valise, weaseling him through every trial--until they clamp the wrist-irons on one of those "blessings of civilization" we're all better off without. At least Geronimo, his solemn face promising vengeance, tells the truth.


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