According to Michael Glitz at the Huffington Post, 1939 was The Best year For Movies Ever.
“…in 1939, the ten movies nominated for Best Picture include landmark classics in so many genres that it makes your head spin. Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. Stagecoach. Ninotchka. Love Affair. The Wizard of Oz. Wuthering Heights. Of Mice and Men. Dark Victory. Goodbye Mr. Chips. And a little flick called Gone With The Wind. Some people argue for 1974 and I’m quite fond of 1987, but you get the point: 1939 was a heck of a year for movies.”
I’ve already covered Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz in this humble weekly movie thread, so let’s take a look at the movie that made John Wayne a household name: Stagecoach. The movie follows a group of nine strangers pulled together by fate on a perilous Western journey. They include a woman with a sordid past; a brilliant doctor who is often drunk; a bossy banker who’s absconding with some money; a stalwart marshal; a pregnant woman whose husband has been injured in battle; and an escaped outlaw on the hunt for the men who killed his family. It’s a tightly plotted intersection of stories where motivations get mixed up with a fight for their lives.
If this isn’t the Ground Zero of modern action movies, it’s pretty close. Several movies influenced by Stagecoach come immediately to mind. You know how for a while there Speed was the shorthand for a type of action movie? Speed was basically “Stagecoach on a bus.” (By the way, happy 25th anniversary, Speed!)
Orson Welles was a huge fan of the movie. According to Wikipedia, “Orson Welles argued that it was a perfect textbook of film-making and claimed to have watched it more than 40 times in preparation for the making of Citizen Kane.”
And, oh man, the stunts.
Rodeo rider Yakima Canutt, John Wayne’s stunt double, provided some of the movie’s most mind-blowing stunts. One of the most breathtaking was called the “stagecoach drop”. Canutt takes a flying leap off of the titular stagecoach and onto a team of horses. At another point he’s dragged across the ground as he pulled alongside the hooves. It’s impossible not to see the “stagecoach drop” and not think Indiana Jones… but you’re seeing it done here first. And perhaps more dangerously. Canutt, though, was influential in creating safer stunt methods, incorporating harnesses and handholds for his stuntwork.
Bonus prompt: Is 1939 truly the best movie year or would you have picked a different one?
The Pits are coming! The Pits are coming!
Get your Best Films of 2018 and 2019 ready for next week’s nominations phase!
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