Asked why, in the climactic chase scene, the Indians didn't simply shoot the horses to stop the stagecoach, director John Ford replied, "Because that would have been the end of the movie."
This was the first of many films that John Ford filmed in Monument Valley, Utah. Others were: My Darling Clementine (1946), Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), Wagon Master (1950), Rio Grande (1950), The Searchers (1956), Sergeant Rutledge (1960) and his last western, Cheyenne Autumn (1964).
The first of many collaborations between John Ford and John Wayne.
When the film was being cast, John Ford lobbied hard for John Wayne but producer Walter Wanger kept saying no. It was only after constant persistence on Ford's part that Wanger finally gave in. Wanger's reservations were based on Wayne's string of B-movies, in which he came across as being a less than competent actor, and the box office failure of Raoul Walsh's The Big Trail (1930) in 1930, Wayne's first serious starring role.
John Wayne's 80th film.
John Ford loved the Monument Valley location so much that the actual stagecoach journey traverses the valley three times.
In 1939 there was no paved road through Monument Valley, hence the reason why it hadn't been used as a movie location before (it wasn't paved until the 1950s). Harry Goulding, who ran a trading post there, had heard that John Ford was planning a big-budget Western so he traveled to Hollywood, armed with over 100 photographs, and threatened to camp out on Ford's doorstep until the director saw him. Ford saw him almost immediately and was instantly sold on the location, particularly when he realized that its remoteness would free him from studio interference.
The interior sets all have ceilings, an unusual practice at the time for studio filming. This was to create a claustrophobic effect in complete counterpoint to the wide open expanse of Monument Valley.
David O. Selznick was interested in making the film, but only if he could have Gary Cooper as the Ringo Kid and Marlene Dietrich as Dallas.
John Ford's first sound Western, and his first in that genre in 13 years. Westerns had fallen out favor with the coming of sound, as it was tricky to record on location.
Local Navajo Indians played the Apaches. The film's production was a huge economic boost to the local impoverished population, giving jobs to hundreds of locals as extras and handymen.
Hosteen Tso, a local shaman, promised John Ford the exact kind of cloud formations he wanted. They duly appeared.
John Ford gave John Wayne the script, asking him for any suggestions as to who could play the Ringo Kid. Wayne suggested Lloyd Nolan, not realizing that Ford was baiting him with the part. Once filming began, however, Ford was merciless to Wayne, constantly undermining him. This psychological tactic was designed to make Wayne start feeling some real emotions, and not to be intimidated by acting alongside the likes of such seasoned professionals as Thomas Mitchell.
In 1939 Claire Trevor was the film's biggest star, and thus commanded the highest salary.
The premise of Ernest Haycox's story comes from Guy de Maupassant's famous story 'Boule de Suif', which takes place in Normandy during the 1870 Franco-Prussian War.