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Thursday July 18th 2024

Stagecoach | 1939

Stagecoach filming location: Monument Valley, on the Utah-Arizona border
Stagecoach filming location: Iconic image of the West: Monument Valley, on the Utah-Arizona border

John Ford’s classic film is based on a short story, Stage to Lordsburg, by Ernest Haycox, published in Collier’s Magazine in 1937, in turn, based on Guy de Maupassant’s Boule de Suif, set during the 1870 Franco-Prussian War.

And apart from the geographical locale, John Wayne’s character name was wisely changed from Malpais Bill to the Ringo Kid.

The film established Monument Valley, on the Arizona-Utah border, as an icon of the American Old West, although, of the passengers, only John Wayne actually trekked out to the area. None of the principals made it past California’s San Fernando Valley.

Monument Valley, an area of striking, flat-topped mesas and buttes, was a tough location in 1938, at the end of a 200-mile dirt road from Flagstaff, Arizona. The Navajo nation, already troubled by disease and unemployment, were employed to play Apaches – one of the many nations they were to play over the years. The Valley is not a National Park, as you might expect, but a Tribal Park still belonging to, and managed by, the Navajo.

Apart from other John Ford Westerns, you can the famed mesas and buttes in Easy Rider, Electra Glide In Blue, Back To The Future III and Transformers: Age Of Extinction.

But, striking as it is, Monument Valley is only a part of Stagecoach. The river crossing is the Kern River, near to Kernville, 40 miles east of Bakersfield, California. The old wagon cut at Newhall, on I-5 – also called Fremont Pass – is the entrance to the dry lake.

Nearby Chatsworth and Calabasas, southern California, also provided locations. The chase by Indians was staged at Lucerne Dry Lake near Victorville, California, recreated by stunt artist Yakima Canutt from the 1937 Monogram movie Riders of the Dawn, which was filmed at the same location. To soften the ground for filming, 20 acres of ground had to be dug up by tractor.

The real journey of the movie, though, is from the Western Street at Republic Studios (the town of ‘Tonto’) to the Goldwyn Studios (‘Lordsburg’), where the interiors were filmed.