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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Enter The "New Romantic Sensation"?


Stagecoach Heads Across 1939 Plains

Every ad tells a selling story. I've always stopped for Stagecoach to see how individual showmen, in 1939 and for reissues afterward, put out word on the Ford/Wayne teaming we call classic. Above is Radio City's announcement for the New York opening. The Music Hall generally stayed clear of bally and kept ads on subdue setting, their assumption that high-profile, if not pre-sold, titles would speak for themselves. Thus there is Stagecoach with minimal art, no cast imagery, and focus on advance reviews, the latter to separate Walter Wanger's rarefied wheat from chaff the lot of most westerns. The "charming revue" that was Wedding Rhyme may not seem congenial to Indian pursuit over salt flats that highlight Stagecoach, but visits to Radio City were always as much about the stage extravaganza as movies they ran, in fact, more so. Stagecoach as it crossed country did so in terms of Daring Deeds, Bold Loves, and Reckless Valor (ad below), much as any genre offering the Music Hall, and those quoted critics, might call "chaff." Hell-bent indeed were exhibitors upon luring crowds to what they promised would be powerful and "electrifying" drama.

A most intriguing aspect of the Loew's ad at right, however, is designation of John Wayne as "a new romantic sensation," this actor who had been working movies for over ten years, and a star for most of those. Had Loew's not been using program westerns out of Monogram and Republic that established Wayne as a leading action name for matinee-goers? Many venues, particularly urban-placed, were blind to popularity of players who made their fame outdoors, where a saddle was their equivalent of thrones Hollywood mainstreamers sat on. Broadway columnist Ed Sullivan is quoted to effect that Stagecoach Wayne was a "combination of Gary Cooper and Lew Ayres," a bouquet I doubt any print observer would toss again. But was Sullivan so far off the beam? You'd think so on evidence of Duke's future career, but yes, there is aspect of both Cooper and Ayres in the strong, but sensitive, character JW enacts in the landmark Ford western. Low-key was the director's approach which he imparted to an admitted newcomer among "A" environs. How badly Wayne was burned from his last expensive try, The Big Trail, had not been forgotten. To now be compared with Lew Ayres seems odd only in hindsight. In 1939, it would have been a boost that would, and likely did, please the ambitious "new sensation" that was John Wayne.

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