Photography: United Artists
Photography: United Artists

Director John Ford's 1939 classic western made The Duke a star.

Free for you to view on Hulu.com: Stagecoach, the classic 1939 John Ford western that made John Wayne a star – and helped co-star Thomas Mitchell win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Ford’s film is a classically simple tale of strangers united in close quarters for a brief but intensely dramatic interlude. In this case, the characters are passengers aboard an Overland Stage Line coach during a dangerous trek through Indian Territory. The journey begins in the small town of Tonto -- no, really -- as two social outcasts – Doc Boone (Mitchell), a gleefully roguish alcoholic, and Dallas (Claire Trevor), a tearfully vulnerable prostitute – are forcibly exiled by the good ladies of The Law and Order League.

These pariahs board the stage to Lordsburg along with Mrs. Mallory (Louise Platt), a very proper – and very pregnant – Army wife; Hartfield (John Carradine), a courtly gambler who appoints himself as Mrs. Mallory’s protector; Peacock (Donald Meek), a mild-mannered whiskey salesman whose sample case is progressively depleted by Doc Boone; and, at the last minute, Gatewood (Berton Churchill), a blustering banker who has absconded with the contents of his office safe. Buck (Andy Devine) is the driver, and Sheriff Wilcox (George Bancroft) rides shotgun.

Just outside of Tonto, the travelers are joined by The Ringo Kid, a boyishly handsome gunfighter who has broken out of prison to avenge his murdered father and brothers. As Ringo -- the role that saved him from the professional purgatory of B-movies – Wayne makes one of the greatest entrances in movie history: While he spins a rifle like a six-gun, the camera rapidly tracks toward him, then frames him heroically, almost worshipfully, in a flattering close-up. Ringo is a friendly and forthcoming fellow, even when dealing with Sheriff Wilcox. But he leaves no room for doubt that he’s quite capable of minding his own bloody business at the end of the line.