DOUBLE BILL #7: Stagecoach (1939) and The Searchers (1956)


John Ford and John Wayne. One of cinema’s greatest and most celebrated director-actor partnerships. They made dozens of films together and they were one helluva team. For this Double Bill, I’ve decided to talk about their first major film together, Stagecoach (1939), and the one that’s usually considered to be their best, The Searchers (1956).

Stagecoach follows the troubled journey of a group of people on their way to Lordsburg, New Mexico. Alcoholic doctor Doc Boone (Thomas Mitchell in an Oscar-winning performance), prostitute Dallas (Claire Trevor), prim and proper Mrs Mallory (Louise Platt), gambler Hatfield (John Carradine), alcohol salesman Mr Peacock (Donald Meek), and their stagecoach drivers Buck (Andy Devine) and Curly (George Bancroft) leave their town of Tonto and head towards Lordsburg, knowing they will most definitely encounter the Geronimo gang. Somewhere along the way, the Ringo Kid (John Wayne in his breakthrough role) makes their acquaintance – in one of cinema’s most spectacular entrances – and jumps on board. Off they go…

Here we have this group of people who probably wouldn’t have met or bonded otherwise, bound together through necessity and in a very confined place, no less, and we get to watch them slowly opening up to each other. Doc and Dallas, in particular, also share a bond because of the fact that they were kicked out of town due to prejudice and intrigue, instigated by the town’s women. I love that. I love the fact that Stagecoach is about the relationships. That’s what’s so interesting to watch. A group of outcasts forced to leave town forming unlikely relationships with each other. Think of it as Grand Hotel (1932) meets Street Scene (1931) on horseback.

Seventeen years later, we have The Searchers. It starts off with – you know what’s coming – one of the most iconic shots ever. I know it’s been talked about endlessly, but you can’t deny it, it’s just majestic. As the door opens, we welcome our hero. Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) is back. But not for long. Soon after he returns home, a raid takes place while he led away from his house. He comes back to find his family has been killed and his nieces Debbie (Natalie Wood) and Lucy (Pippa Scott) have been kidnapped. Ethan, Brad Jorgensen (Harry Carey Jr) and Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter) set out to find them, no matter what it takes. Our journey begins along with theirs…

The Searchers is emotional. It’s heart-wrenching. It’s compelling. We care about the characters. We recognize their flaws and we understand their actions and emotions. We’re with them throughout, and we’re rooting for them the whole time. And despite the emotional roller-coaster it puts you through, the ending is entirely satisfying, albeit bittersweet. And it will make you cry, believe me.

I like a Western with a heart and a conscience. Stagecoach and The Searchers have them in spades. Both of them could fit into the category of ‘Western for people who don’t like Westerns’ and that’s ok. It’s not a cliche, it’s true. And when you’re talking about John Ford and John Wayne, you know you’re in good hands.

12 thoughts on “DOUBLE BILL #7: Stagecoach (1939) and The Searchers (1956)

  1. This is a perfect double bill! I love both the movies, and it’s more than time to rewatch Stagecoach. By the way, I loved your description of the movie as “Grand Hotel (1932) meets Street Scene (1931) on horseback.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mike

    Another great comparison Carol. We must be on the same wavelength Carol as I just watched ” the Searchers” again last Sunday night. That opening shot is spectacular and was nice seeing it on a big screen tv. Also was impressed by Ward Bond. He has such a screen presence- you can’t take your eyes off him.

    Liked by 1 person

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