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Stagecoach Review

For Families provided by Common Sense Media

OK for kids 11+

Classic John Wayne Western masterpiece promotes tolerance.

What Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Stagecoach is a classic, landmark western from 1939, a masterpiece from director John Ford that featured John Wayne in his breakout role. This movie was designed for grown-ups, exploring complex psychological, moral and character issues through its simple story. Happily, it's also crackerjack entertainment, with plenty of tense conflict, humor, and action; it's also famous for one of the most dangerous stunts ever filmed. Younger kids may be bored, but for others that have never seen a western before, this is a grand place to start. It was nominated for seven Oscars and won two.

  • Families can talk about the movie's violence. Is it thrilling, or disturbing? How do the deaths of these characters affect you? How does the movie achieve these different emotions?
  • Is it ironic that the lowest of the characters are the ones with the most integrity? What might cause these characters to have more empathy and tolerance than their more successful, more socially accepted passengers?
  • In 1939, there was a motion picture code that prevented the movie from showing or discussing anything about prostitution or pregnancy. What may have been the reasons for this?
  • What are the hallmarks of the Western genre? Why was it so popular, and why is it less popular today?

The good stuff
  • message true4

    Messages: This morally, psychologically complex story throws together eight characters from vastly different walks of life. As we come to know them, we realize that the most so-called respectable, morally upright of these characters are actually the most lowdown, selfish, greedy, and judgmental. The outcasts, bandits, drunks, prostitutes and weaklings turn out to be trustworthy, noble, and helpful. The movie teaches not to judge a book by its cover.

  • rolemodels true3

    Role models: Ironically, the best role models in this movie are the outlaw who recently escaped jail, the prostitute, and the drunken doctor. During a crisis, they are the ones who behave selflessly, show empathy, and work to solve problems. Most characters come out the end with three-dimensional character traits, with both good and bad sides, except the most "respectable" of them all: the banker. He is the most selfish and greedy of the bunch, and apparently beyond redemption.

What to watch for
  • violence false3

    Violence: Many characters carry guns or rifles. There's a long battle between the Apache and the characters on the stagecoach, with whizzing bullets and flying arrows. Some major characters die, and some blood can be seen.

  • sex false1

    Sex: A major character, Dallas, is apparently a prostitute, though this is never actually discussed. She is treated as a morally bankrupt outcast. Another character is pregnant and delivers a baby, though -- again -- none of this is shown or mentioned.

  • language false0

    Language: Not an issue

  • consumerism false0

    Consumerism: Not an issue

  • drugsalcoholtobacco false3

    Drinking, drugs and smoking: A major character, the doctor, is a drunk. He drinks constantly, and sobers up only to help deliver the baby. As soon as that task is completed, he begins drinking again. He pals around with a "whiskey drummer" (i.e. salesman) and drinks up all his samples. He also smokes cigars, and other characters are seen smoking.