Sunday, 25 November 2007
Character Types in "Stagecoach" (1939): genre and the western
The character comments listed below were found on Bristol City College's website
These characters featured in one of the greatest westerns of all time - John Ford's "Stagecoach" (1939). The reason for the film's importance is Ford's ingenuous revamping of the western's narrative conventions as he set the standard for westerns to come. For instance, the stagecoach itself acts as an enclosed theater; among several conventions introduced by Ford were: character types below, the cavalry charge in the nick of time and the final shoot-out. He also introduced John Wayne's character, in Wayne's breakthrough role, in a particularly flamboyant way. Ford also dispensed with the singing cowboys which were a feature of westerns until the late 1930s (and in some films some time after).
Characters – what do they stand for?
Taking these summaries of character, can you map them onto the basic opposition of EAST and WEST? This is a model of the the structure of westerns suggested by Jim Kitses in his 1969 essay, "Authorship and Genre: Notes on the Western".
Doc Boone – A Drunk but not bad. Still thinks about people’s good qualities. Supports Dallas against prejudiced towns-women (League of Decency?). Politically in opposition to Hatfield (yet they manage to be reconciled a little after the baby is born). Dallas comes to him for advice about Ringo’s proposal. He becomes a father figure to her.
Curly (Sheriff) – Father figure to Ringo. Represents social ethics. The Law of the land. The future. Knew Ringo’s father – looks out for Ringo. Has authority in the group – makes decisions (esp. for Buck).
Buck (Driver) – Comic character. Not bad, just not bright. Simple family orientated. Focused on the trivial, not socially important issues. Feels his authority has been taken by Curly. Likable. But childish.
Mrs. Mallory – High status. Prim & proper. Aligned with League of Decent Ladies in town. Feels uncomfortable about present company. Toffy-nosed. Thinks too much of herself. Wife of a military man (becomes more friendly with Dallas but it is not to last): Daughter of a military man from the Southern Confederate army. The daughter she gives birth to is a product of this southern and northern blood – the future reconciles the past.
Dallas – Poor reputation. Thrown out of town by Ladies who don’t. Considered a ‘loose’ woman. Is afraid of what Ringo might think of her past. Is the downtrodden who deserves a second chance. Can still be a good mother despite her past.
Peacock – Family man. Represents commercial future of the country. In many ways the most interesting combination of things: sells whiskey but is often called reverend, has clear gentlemanly qualities (looks out for the ladies, a father of 5!), yet is treated like a child by Doc Boone. A clear Easterner.
Ringo Kid – Jail bird but not bad because is protecting everyone and sticks up for Dallas. Young & handsome. Represents traditional cowboy hero. Respectable members of coach look down on him. Associate him with lower class (i.e. of Dallas)
Gatewood (Banker) – Has left wife – run off with stolen money from bank. Is a blusterer – selfish, esp. when it comes to women – in many ways is the opposite of Peacock. Represents corruption. Is caught in the end. Represents the ‘bad apples’ in the future of the country.
Hatfield – Southern gambler gentleman. Supports Mrs Mallory’s status as a Lady. However has a bad side in that has killed people in gambling disagreements. This makes him an obvious candidate for catching a bullet from the Indians in the chase sequence. Has some regard for Doc Boone’s profession after the baby is born. Dies with honour? As the Southern Confederacy must for the good of the country?