Mismatched group of men and women, each for reasons of their own, crowd together aboard a stagecoach during an Apache uprising, headed for the distant town of Lordsburg. Star-making vehicle for John Wayne, whose character, an outlaw named Ringo, is introduced with an iconic zoom that has lost none of its dramatic power but now generates an additional sense of pleasurable pride -- in Wayne, America, and American film. Joining Ringo are a lady, an alcoholic doctor, a gambler, and a prostitute, among others. Ultimately, a transcendent Western that engages on every level, with simple yet sharply drawn characters, believable dialogue, a tense, well-balanced narrative, and impressive direction and visuals -- with the latter not being entirely confined to the harsh beauties of Monument Valley (one shot, for instance, of a long hallway where Ringo and Dallas, the prostitute, converse is memorable not for its metaphor but instead for its stark and prosaic beauty). Based on "Stage to Lordsburg," a short story by Ernest Haycox.
The Story & The Adaptation
The story by Haycox, quite good in its own right, was originally published in 1937 in The Saturday Evening Post. It's about a gunslinging man on his way to the town of Lordsburg to repay a "debt" -- that is, to kill two men over some unexplained grievance. To get there, he must join a group of strangers aboard a stagecoach and travel through Apache country. Among his companions is a prostitute, scorned by the others, who piques his interest. Typically the other way around, here it is the relationship between these two characters that serves as the comfortable backdrop for the journey itself, which Haycox describes sparingly yet evocatively, imparting always a sense of constant threat and, above all, movement. Dudley Nichols' screenplay captures all of this magnificently, and the only real deviations from the story lie in the necessary expansion of the secondary characters to flesh it out to feature length.