Taking a Shot: Stagecoach (John Ford, 1939)

The longer John Wayne stayed offscreen in John Ford’s Stagecoach, the more curious I got about how he would make his entrance. Would he just kind of show up? Would it be an ignominous beginning to the ten Westerns he and Ford would make together? Would it belie the inextricable nature of their careers, or the mark they made on American cinema?

As it turns out, the shot that introduces Wayne (fifteen seconds in here) is quite well known. Generally, I’m more appreciative of “important” film moments if you don’t need to be told that other people think they’re important, because their technical achievement, or beauty, or dramatic impact is plain to see. Certainly, you don’t need to know anything about Ford or Wayne to be impressed by this entrance.

stagecoach1

The shot starts here. Wayne twirls his rifle, and the camera dollies allllll the way…

stagecoach2

…to here.

On my first viewing, I applauded in delight. And then I shrieked in terror at his resemblance to Mel Gibson.

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