- Apr 24, 2006
- Charlotte, NC
- Real Name
- Matt Hough
Directed by John Ford
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 96 minutes
Audio: PCM 1.0 English
Release Date: May 25, 2010
Review Date:May 9, 2010
There are westerns (Silverado), there are great westerns (Unforgiven), there are iconic westerns (Red River), and then there is Stagecoach. The grandfather of the adult western directed by the genre’s greatest master creator, Stagecoach has everything you’d want in a film of this genre: interesting characters, plenty of action, comedy relief, and location photography that sweeps you up and out in its evocation of time and place. Many westerns have tried to surpass the qualities that have made this marvelous film such a classic (a foolish remake was even attempted). A few have come close, but Stagecoach even today retains its status as the pater familias of the genre.
Nine people undertake a hazardous journey through hostile Indian country without the benefit of the cavalry to protect them in an effort to reach the town of Lordsburg. There is town whore Dallas (Claire Trevor), run out of town by the ladies’ law and order league. Also tossed out of town is the drunken Doc Boone (Thomas Mitchell). And then there are mild mannered liquor salesman Mr. Peacock (Donald Meek), bank president Mr. Gatewood (Berton Churchill) who's secretly absconding with the bank’s recent Wells Fargo payroll, Marshal Curly Wilcox (George Bancroft) who’s taking the wanted Ringo Kid (John Wayne) to town for transfer to prison (though the Kid is anxious to settle the score with the Plummer brothers who killed his father and brother), Lucy Mallory (Louise Platt) who’s unusually eager to join her wounded cavalry officer husband at the end of the line, charming gambler Hatfield (John Carradine) with an eye on Lucy, and eternally gabby stagecoach driver Buck (Andy Devine). Along the way are surprises galore including proposals, attacks, and attempted escapes.
John Ford took his cameras into the legendary Monument Valley for the first time since silent days to film location scenes for the film, and one imagines how audiences of the day must have been thunderstruck by what they saw. It’s a common sight now in westerns to see those majestic peaks and beautifully expansive vistas (and it’s a location Ford would return to again and again over the years), but this film got him there for the first time. The character types represented by the actors in the film weren’t new to westerns, but Ford and screenwriter Dudley Nichols use them so interestingly that these are the personas that stick in one’s mind forever after. In the end, the slick gambler isn’t exactly whom we were expecting him to be and neither is the marshal or the young wife. Ford’s brilliant handling of the show’s two most famous action sequences: the Indian attack of the stagecoach and Ringo’s inevitable face-off with the Plummer brothers are both still so edge-of-seat worthy that one marvels at his brisk, sure hand. Victor Fleming may have walked away with the Oscar for Best Director that year for Gone With the Wind, but the New York Film Critics Circle saw it differently: John Ford won for his direction of Stagecoach.
John Wayne had been too young and inexperienced to pull off a starring role almost a decade earlier in Fox’s The Big Trail, but after all the intervening years in B-westerns, he had honed his craft so successfully that he emerges as a major star presence in this film as the Ringo Kid. Full of self confidence and swagger without laying it on too thickly, Wayne’s star career was justifiably reborn with his work in this movie. No less effective is Claire Trevor’s Dallas whose tough on the outside, sensitive on the inside prostitute gives the heart o’gold stereotype a fresh coat of paint. Thomas Mitchell’s Oscar-winning Doc Boone is unparalleled in both comedy and pathos while Donald Meek and Andy Devine do the same patented character work that kept them regularly employed for decades. In much smaller roles, Tim Holt as a cavalry officer and Tom Tyler as the intimidating Luke Plummer make strong impressions with minimal screen time and dialogue. You’ll also walk away remembering the work of John Carradine and Berton Churchill in their respective roles.
Though it’s obvious that a great deal of work has gone into bringing the 1.37:1 1080p transfer (AVC codec) of this film into shape for today’s demanding high definition home theaters, no amount of work is going to make it look pristine. Though there are reels that feature good sharpness and respectable black levels with nice shadow detail (particularly in the latter half of the film), there are plenty of scratches and age-related artifacts that no amount of digital scrubbing is going to be able to eradicate, and early on there are a few scenes that are soft and lack detail, likely several generations removed from the original camera negative (which no longer exists). The film has been divided into 20 chapters.
The PCM 1.0 audio track (1.1 Mbps) has hiss throughout, but the uncompressed audio track resolves the problems just a bit better than the DVD of this title does. Dialogue is always discernible, and the track has otherwise been cleaned of crackle, pops, and flutter. There’s little in the way of dynamic fidelity, of course, and certain strains of the Oscar-winning music score can sound tinny and a bit shrill but a little less so than on the DVD.
The audio commentary is by renowned western historian and scholar Jim Kitses who does a fascinating scene-by-scene analysis of the movie and also offers plenty of anecdotal information about the director and the stars and various interpretations of the film and its merits from a host of sources.
Bucking Broadway is one of the earliest westerns by John Ford filmed in 1917 and presented here with new intertitles, a new music score by Donald Sosis, and with tinted frames featuring excellent sharpness and depth (in many ways sharper and cleaner than Stagecoach). It runs for 54 ½ minutes in 1080i.
A 1968 interview with John Ford finds the celebrated director in an acerbic, combative mood with British interviewer Philip Jenkinson, but together they do manage to discuss his early career in movies and his working relationships with such stars as Will Rogers and John Wayne. The 72 ½-minute interview is presented in 1080i.
Director Peter Bogdanovich speaks about John Ford in a 14 ¼-minute interview in which he also discusses the movie Stagecoach and his encounters with the director on the set of Cheyenne Autumn. It’s presented in 1080p.
“Dreaming of Jeanie” is critic Tag Gallagher’s 21 ¾-minute celebration of the film Stagecoach with extensive film clips illustrating his critique and analyses. It’s in 1080p.
The grandson of director John Ford Dan Ford presents home movies of his celebrated grandfather on board his boat the Aran with celebrated friends like John Wayne, Ward Bond, and cinematographer Gregg Toland. The clips run for 7 ¼ minutes in 1080p.
“True West” is author Buzz Bissinger’s tribute to Harry Goulding and his influence on Ford in convincing him to make Monument Valley the primary location for this classic western. It runs for 10 ¾ minutes in 1080p.
A tribute to legendary stuntman Yakima Canutt is delivered by stuntman Vic Armstrong in an interesting 10-minute featurette presented in 1080p.
The radio program “Screen Director’s Playhouse” presents the 1949 radio version of Stagecoach with John Wayne, Claire Trevor, and Ward Bond in leading roles. Director George Marshall introduces director John Ford who introduces the play.
The film’s theatrical trailer runs 3 ½ minutes in 1080i.
The enclosed 33-page booklet contains complete cast and crew lists, a chapter listing, some tinted stills from the movie, an adulatory essay on the movie by filmmaker David Carins, and the short story which was the basis of the film’s script, “Stage to Lordsburg” by Ernest Haycock.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
4.5/5 (not an average)
The first and in many ways the best of the modern westerns, Stagecoach comes to Blu-ray looking the best it’s ever looked and with a package of copious bonus material that’s well worth the price of the package. Highest recommendation!