Movie for the Evening: Stagecoach 1939
“Stagecoach” is a big movie that exploits the basic elements of a Western, refined to art, as a backdrop to the larger story the celebrated director, John Ford, had to tell. This snapshot of the American political scene in that year is delivered in two lines by the bank executive embezzler Ellsworth Henry Gatewood (the bank is Wells Fargo), played by Burton Churchill.
Gatewood hypocrisies are delivered in blowhard pronouncements through the stagecoach’s perilous trip to Lordsburg, New Mexico, during a Geronimo lead Indian uprising. His disdain for the tragic harlot, Dallas, played by Claire Travor, and his hatred for once incarcerated Ringo, played by John Wayne, is the setup for the social dynamics of the trip and highlights the false character portrait of a “pillar of the community”.
To make off with the bank’s $50k, a princely sum in the 1860’s, to escape a domineering wife and the small town of Tonto in the Arizona territory, he cuts the telegraph wires and boards the stagecoach with his satchel of loot. His plan requires a fast trip to Lordsburg which is thwarted by the events that follow. By the time he gets to lordsburg word of his theft has caught up with him.
The two lines, apocryphal today, were that the federal government is ruining the country by running up the national debt (he complains it is an inexcusable 100 million dollars annually-today, almost 80 years later it is over 1 trillion annually) and that the government should have a businessman as a president.
The director of “The Grapes of Wrath” makes his predictions of 21st century America in a movie genre considered by many to be mere entertainment.