Asked why, in the climactic chase scene, the Indians didn`t simply shoot the horses to stop the stagecoach, director John Ford replied, "Because that would have been the end of the movie."
This was the first of many films that John Ford filmed in Monument Valley, Utah. Others were: My Darling Clementine (1946), Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), Wagon Master (1950), Rio Grande (1950), The Searchers (1956), Sergeant Rutledge (1960) and his last western, Cheyenne Autumn (1964).
The first of many collaborations between John Ford and John Wayne.
When the film was being cast, John Ford lobbied hard for John Wayne but producer Walter Wanger kept saying no. It was only after constant persistence on Ford`s part that Wanger finally gave in. Wanger`s reservations were based on Wayne`s string of B-movies, in which he came across as being a less than competent actor, and the box office failure of Raoul Walsh`s The Big Trail (1930) in 1930, Wayne`s first serious starring role.
John Wayne`s 80th film.
John Ford loved the Monument Valley location so much that the actual stagecoach journey traverses the valley three times.
In 1939 there was no paved road through Monument Valley, hence the reason why it hadn`t been used as a movie location before (it wasn`t paved until the 1950s). Harry Goulding, who ran a trading post there, had heard that John Ford was planning a big-budget Western so he traveled to Hollywood, armed with over 100 photographs, and threatened to camp out on Ford`s doorstep until the director saw him. Ford saw him almost immediately and was instantly sold on the location, particularly when he realized that its remoteness would free him from studio interference.
The interior sets all have ceilings, an unusual practice at the time for studio filming. This was to create a claustrophobic effect in complete counterpoint to the wide open expanse of Monument Valley.
David O. Selznick was interested in making the film, but only if he could have Gary Cooper as the Ringo Kid and Marlene Dietrich as Dallas.
John Ford`s first sound Western, and his first in that genre in 13 years. Westerns had fallen out favor with the coming of sound, as it was tricky to record on location.
Local Navajo Indians played the Apaches. The film`s production was a huge economic boost to the local impoverished population, giving jobs to hundreds of locals as extras and handymen.
Hosteen Tso, a local shaman, promised John Ford the exact kind of cloud formations he wanted. They duly appeared.
John Ford gave John Wayne the script, asking him for any suggestions as to who could play the Ringo Kid. Wayne suggested Lloyd Nolan, not realizing that Ford was baiting him with the part. Once filming began, however, Ford was merciless to Wayne, constantly undermining him. This psychological tactic was designed to make Wayne start feeling some real emotions, and not to be intimidated by acting alongside the likes of such seasoned professionals as Thomas Mitchell.
In 1939 Claire Trevor was the film`s biggest star, and thus commanded the highest salary.
The premise of Ernest Haycox`s story comes from Guy de Maupassant`s famous story `Boule de Suif`, which takes place in Normandy during the 1870 Franco-Prussian War.
Orson Welles privately watched this film about 40 times while he was making Citizen Kane (1941).
Near the end of the movie, Luke Plummer (Tom Tyler) has a pair of black aces and a pair of black eights. This is the notorious "dead man`s hand" supposed to have been held by Wild Bill Hickc*ck before he was killed.
A device known as a "Running W" was used on the Indians` horses during the sequence where they are chasing the stagecoach. Strong, thin wires are fixed to a metal post, then the other end of the wires are attached to an iron clamp that encircles the legs of a horse, and the post is anchored into the ground. The horse is then ridden at full gallop, and when the wire`s maximum length is reached--just when the rider is "shot"--the animal`s legs are jerked out from underneath it, causing it to tumble violently and throw the "shot" rider off. The trouble was that the rider knew when the horse was going to fall but the horse didn`t, resulting in many horses either being killed outright or having to be destroyed because of broken limbs incurred during the falls. The use of the "Running W" was eventually discontinued after many complaints from both inside and outside the film industry.
John Ford originally wanted Ward Bond to play Buck the stage driver but gave the role to Andy Devine when he found that Bond couldn`t drive a "six-up" stagecoach and there wasn`t time to teach him.
John Wayne`s salary was considerably less than all of his co-stars`, apart from John Carradine.
It`s believed by many that the famous line "A man`s gotta do what a man`s gotta do," widely attributed to a John Wayne Western character, is spoken by Wayne in this film, however, it isn`t. His character, The Ringo Kid, instead says "There are some things a man just can`t run away from," when asked why he intends to stay and avenge his family`s murders rather than try to escape to Mexico.
Producer Walter Wanger wanted Gary Cooper for the role of Ringo but Cooper`s fees were too high. Bruce Cabot unsuccessfully tested for it before John Ford got his wish and cast John Wayne.
Film debut of Mickey Simpson.
Although Louis Gruenberg receives screen credit for the musical score, his contribution was not used and his name was omitted for the Academy Award nomination.
The hat that John Wayne wears is his own. He would wear it in many westerns during the next two decades before retiring it after Howard Hawks` Rio Bravo (1959), because it was simply "falling apart." After that, the hat was displayed under glass in his home.
Ranked #9 on the American Film Institute`s list of the 10 greatest films in the genre "Western" in June 2008.
Pictured on one of four 25¢ US commemorative postage stamps issued 23 March 1990 honoring classic films released in 1939. The stamp featured Stagecoach (1939), Beau Geste (1939), The Wizard of Oz (1939), and Gone with the Wind (1939).