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Blu-ray Review HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Stagecoach (1 Viewer)

Matt Hough

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Stagecoach (Blu-ray)
Directed by John Ford

Studio: Criterion
Year: 1939
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1   1080p   AVC codec
Running Time: 96 minutes
Rating: NR
Audio: PCM 1.0 English
Subtitles: SDH

MSRP:$ 39.99


Release Date: May 25, 2010

Review Date:May 9, 2010



The Film

5/5


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.



Video Quality

3/5


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.



Audio Quality

3/5


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.



Special Features

5/5


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.



In Conclusion

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!




Matt Hough

Charlotte, NC


 

Eric Peterson

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Overall, is the picture quality better than the Warner SE from a few years ago? Supposedly this transfer was from the UCLA restoration.


I'll likely get this either way for the new array of extras.....and keep the old one for it's plentiful extras also. I hate having 2 copies of the same film though.
 

Matt Hough

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Sorry, Eric. I can't answer that. The only copy of Stagecoach I had was Warners' first single disc DVD release, and the DVD and Blu-ray from Criterion were both superior to it.
 

Russell G

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I love the film, but the extras sound just as good! I look forward to getting this one. thanks for the review!
 

smithb

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Originally Posted by Robert Crawford
I'll be viewing my copy tomorrow as I anticipate a very good entertainment experience.


Crawdaddy


I have the later 2 disk version. I would be interested in hearing your opinion of the BR against it, if you own or have had a chance to see it as well.
 

Robert Crawford

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Originally Posted by smithb




I have the later 2 disk version. I would be interested in hearing your opinion of the BR against it, if you own or have had a chance to see it as well.

I own the original 1997 DVD release as well as the 2 disc version that came out in the John Wayne/John Ford boxset back in 2006. I'm pretty confident this BRD will surpass the quality of those previously two releases by a long shot.






Crawdaddy
 

smithb

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Originally Posted by Robert Crawford
I own the original 1997 DVD release as well as the 2 disc version that came out in the John Wayne/John Ford boxset back in 2006. I'm pretty confident this BRD will surpass the quality of those previously two releases by a long shot.


Crawdaddy


This may be one of those I will upgrade. The later DVD release was the first time I had ever seen this film. I had gotten into a mode of watching all of John Wayne's earlier films at that time. The extra's on the 2 disc set were very informative and definitely added to the experience. So unless they are all ported over I may have to even keep both.
 

Doug Wallen

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Watched this with my son this evening, he is 17 and has never seen this and thoroughly enjoyed it. The disc looks great and I am amazed at the quality of this presentation. The supplements are excellent.


Amazing disc.


Doug
 

Robert Crawford

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I watched this BRD today, but only the film and one of the bonus materials. I didn't compare it to any of the DVDS yet, but I didn't need to for me to see a much better video presentation than I remembered ever seeing on any video format. It's really noticable during the second half of the film as you can really see the sweat beads on the faces of the actors in the stagecoach.





Crawdaddy
 

Frank Ha

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Glad you guys can see image improvement over that of the DVDs. I ordered this from Barnes and Noble this morning. Their site says there's 1-2 week wait on the title. Add another 1 week to get it to Honduras and through customs and I'll be seeing this in about 3 weeks. Well, anticipation can be a good thing .
 

Joseph DeMartino

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I watched the film one-and-a-half times last night, the second time with the commentary track. But it was getting too late for a "school night" so I reluctantly turned off the system and went to bed. (In between viewings of the film I watched the Bogdonavich interview, but otherwise left the supplements alone.)


First, a confession: Until last night I had never before seen Stagecoach. Oh I've seen clips in documentaries and caught a few minutes here and there when flipping around the cable dial but I had never sat down and simply watched the film from beginning to end - in fact, I had never seen the ending. I had a pretty good idea that Ringo was going to settle the hash of the brothers Plummer and get the girl, but I had no idea how any of that was going to come about.

I was a little - not disappointed, but saddened, that the image was not restored in the same way that other films of this vintage have been. The Wizard of Oz on Blu Ray looks like it was filmed yesterday. I know that it simply isn't possible, for technical or economic reasons (or both) to work similar magic on every picture. But if any film deserves such treatment it is Stagecoach, one of the shining gems of classic Hollywood's crowning year. The vertical black line running through the opening titles was a distraction at first, as were some of the specks and scratches. But then a funny thing happened. Either the flaws became less frequent as the film went on or I stopped noticing them because I was so drawn into the story.


Quite simply I loved the film. Everything the best of the Ford/Wayne collaborations would offer over the years was already there in 1939. So many "legendary" films disappoint on first viewing, because they have been so hyped, but for me Stagecoach was better than I expected, even though I already knew it was a classic. To hear a film or a book or a song is a classic is one thing. To experience it and see why it is a classic is quite another. As it happens one of my other recent Blu Ray purchases was the Godfather Trilogy. Watching inspired a trip to the library in search of some books about the films, and that, in turn, led me to a book on Citizen Kane, written by the author of one of the Godfather movie books. So I had to watch Kane again, as well. And that brings us back to what a classic Stagecoach is. Long before I listened to the commentary or watched the Bogdonavich interview the deep-focus shots, the low angles and the sets-with-ceilings all jumped out at me. A whole bunch of innovations conventionally assigned to Kane were already present in Ford's work, but they were somehow less flashy in this film. They didn't call attention to themselves in quite the way they did in Kane, nor were they used as frequently. (But that may have been as much the result of the different stories and characters featured in the two films as in the intentions of the directors.) I had no idea Welles screened Stagecoach so many times for the crew of Kane, but I can see why he did.

Now we just need the rest of the Ford/Wayne pictures on Blu Ray. (Not to mention Citizen Kane. Can't wait for next year. I look forward to a watching double feature of Stagecoach and Kane some rainy afternoon when I have no distractions.)


Regards,


Joe
 

smithb

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I watched Stagecoach for the first time a year or so back when I got the two disk set. As you did, I immediately watched it again with the commentary and went through all of the extras (I rarely do this), and I was thoroughly impressed (I couldn't stop). The film was great during the initial viewing, but the commentary and other extra's added so much to the experience. I should be getting my BR version any day now.
 

PaulDA

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I've assigned this film to my students in my Wild West course, including the commentary that is on the Warner DVD. I will be getting the BD (of course) but I will hold onto the DVD as the commentary is not the same (though it is quite informative in its own right and worthy of a listen).


My students uniformly expressed their surprise at how much they enjoyed such an "old movie". It's always good to find ways to bring the classics to today's younger generations.
 

Richard--W

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My father took me to see Stagecoach at the public library when I was very little -- mid-to-late 1960s. A 16mm print, probably. I've seen 35mm prints projected in the Los Angeles area whenever a repertory screening comes around, which it does occasionally, and I'm there. It's part of my upbringing, Stagecoach, and I'm not that old. I like Criterion's Blu-ray very much, but I can't help but think Warner Brother's original single disc remains the best transfer I've seen on home video, a bit sharper and clearer than their 2 disc special edition. Or maybe I'm just used to it and not used to the new Blu-ray.

Originally Posted by PaulDA

I've assigned this film to my students in my Wild West course, including the commentary that is on the Warner DVD. ...


My students uniformly expressed their surprise at how much they enjoyed such an "old movie". It's always good to find ways to bring the classics to today's younger generations.

A Wild West course? Books and movies or just movies? What other westerns are you showing them?
 

Richard--W

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How come nobody ever thinks of Ford's young and early silent western Straight Shooting (Universal 1914) starring Harry Carey (Sr) for a supplement? It survives, it's in public domain, it's available, it's complete, and it looks reasonably okay for its 96 years. It also pertains to John Wayne's acting style. Harry Carey was his mentor. Although a primitive film, it also starts the progression of Ford's style with the western. And yet there is no DVD release. Lasting under an hour, it's a perfect supplement.
 

Michael Elliott

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Alpha was going to release STRAIGHT SHOOTING last month but for some reason they removed it. You can view the film online though.
 

John Hodson

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Finally - finally - got my hands on this and I'm thrilled to bits. As long as expectations are tempered - although this *is* a step up from previous home video releases both in picture and sound, there's no great revelatory improvement - you couldn't fail to be delighted. And though this is a switchback as far as source quality is concerned, when it matters - those incredible vistas of Monument Valley composed jointly by God and Pappy - the BD delivers.


The absolute delight is in the care and attention Criterion have lavished on the main feature and the supplements - Bucking Broadway looking amazing in HD! Philip Jenkinson allowing his leg to be unsubtlely pulled by Ford in order to tease a snippet here, a nugget there.


Love it - another fabulous gift from the Criterion collection.
 

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