August 13th, 2009

STAGECOACH (1939) *** ½

A stagecoach full of assorted misfits (town whore, drunkard doctor, embezzler, pregnant broad, Southern gentlemen, etc.) heads across the desert and into hostile Apache territory.  Among the passengers is a wanted gunfighter named The Ringo Kid (John Wayne) who becomes smitten with the lady of ill repute (Claire Trevor).  Before they can reach their intended destination, the stagecoach gets attacked by the Apaches and Ringo shows he ain’t such a bad guy by helping the Sheriff fend them off.


Stagecoach is considered one of the best westerns ever made for several reasons.  First, it’s the first real “prestige” western made by Hollywood after years of countless B oaters.  Second, it marked the first major collaboration between star John Wayne and director John Ford.  Stagecoach was also the first flick Ford shot in Monument Valley, a setting he would later use in eight more westerns.  Most importantly though, this is the movie that really made Wayne a superstar.  You don’t really need to know all that to appreciate the movie but it sure helps.


While I myself don’t necessarily think Stagecoach is one of the best westerns EVER, it’s definitely pretty awesome.  Although the flick has it’s flaws (more on that in a second), it’s still a great John Wayne movie.  He gives a good performance in this one and stands out among the ensemble cast. 


The movie really belongs more to Ford than to The Duke.  His desert plain compositions are elegantly framed and he really shows the majesty of the Old West.  And what more needs to be said about the Apache attack?  It’s the standard to which all western action scenes should be measured. 


As previously mentioned, I do have some qualms with the film.  I think the big beef I had was that the movie should’ve ended after the passengers left the stagecoach.  The final scene of The Duke strolling into town to dispatch the three dudes that murdered his family seems more like a footnote than a real ending.  To me, the scene just doesn’t work because Stagecoach is by and large an ensemble piece and having the flick all of a sudden focus on Wayne feels out of step with the rest of the movie.  I also think it would’ve been better for Wayne’s character NOT to have gone out for revenge because it would’ve shown how the events on the stagecoach had matured him.  That’s just me.  The climatic duel itself is OK I suppose but it’s got nothing on the breathtaking Apache assault that should’ve concluded the movie.  If the flick was only 75 minutes long, it would’ve been pitch perfect.  Sadly, the last 20 minutes or so is kinda superfluous so I gotta knock a Half Star off.


Stagecoach rockets to the Number 1 spot on The Video Vacuum Top Ten Films for 1939, which puts it sitting pretty right on top of Son of Frankenstein.


Jackie Chan and this other dude play a duo of actors who beat up some Japanese soldiers who mess up their play.  They then take off to the country where they befriend a rickshaw driver that lets them crash at his pad.  When the soldiers return to rough up the driver, Jackie and his buddy start mopping the floor with them.  The evil soldiers then kill Jackie, which gets his Chinese chum really mad and he sets out to get some revenge.


Eagle Shadow Fist isn’t really a Jackie Chan movie since he only has a supporting role and dies about an hour into the film.  If you’re watching the flick to see Chan do his patented comedy-oriented Kung Fu shtick, you’ll be extremely disappointed.  I know I was.  The fight scenes are plentiful but they’re all choreographed in the same stunningly average manner.  (The final confrontation will serve as a good reminder as to why you don’t see very many fight scenes that take place while the two combatants are wading waist-high in the middle of a stream.)


There is one thing that makes Eagle Shadow Fist a bit different than most Chan films and that’s the blood.  There are a lot of stabbings, slicings, impalings and even a juicy eye gouging, which results in a healthy spewing of red stuff.  The villain is a real mean bastard too.  He rapes the heroine before stabbing her in the back and at one point tosses some innocent kids face first into a mountain.  Usually you don’t see that sort of nastiness in a Jackie Chan movie.


Overall, Eagle Shadow Fist is just sorta so-so.  The fight scenes are competent but unspectacular and the “plot” scenes are lethargic to say the least.  It’s not great but there are worse Jackie Chan flicks you could waste your time on; that’s for sure.  (The Accidental Spy anyone?)


AKA:  Fist of Anger.  AKA:  In Eagle Shadow Fist.  AKA:  Not Scared to Die.  AKA:  Return to China.