Blu-ray Review: Stagecoach (1986)

Blu-ray Reviews, Reviews, Top Story

The original Stagecoach was the film that established the stardom of both John Wayne and director John Ford. The movie thrilled audiences in 1939 with the action and landscape shots of Monument Valley. The film was a sensation, but vanished for a while when the negative and prints went missing. For the most part, Stagecoach was known by a 1966 remake starring Red Buttons and Bing Crosby. It wasn’t until the early ’70s when a battered print found in John Wayne’s garage. The prints was restored and returned to the public eye. But it turns out there was a better print out there. My old boss at North Carolina School of the Arts Moving Image Archive was working in Manhattan years later when he got a phone call. Turns out Duart was moving stuff in a storage facility and his contact there had uncovered cans marked Stagecoach. Ray got across town in what reset the actual length of a New York Minute. His contact at Duart wasn’t pulling a fast one. Inside those cans was a pristine print of Stagecoach. Why after all these decades had this print been spared the fate of all others? Turns out the first real had the sound off by a few frames. Every year Ray would break out the print for a screening that was a religious ceremony on par with Christmas. There was such a glory to this Western that established so much. But this is not the Stagecoach being reviewed here.

During 1985 Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson had joined up as The Highwaymen. This country supergroup proved to be hot enough that they were able to get their own movie of the week Western. Kenny Rogers was doing well with his Gambler movie. But what kinda of Western could these four men make? A classic sound deserves a classic story. Thus they Highwaymen were put on a Stagecoach and sent to Lordsburg. Kristofferson gets the John Wayne role of the Ringo Kid. Cash rides on top as Marshal Curly Wilcox. Jennings is the gambler risking a route through Apache land. Willie alters his character to be Doc Holliday. These quite a few familiar faces on the bumpy road including Anthony Newley (Garbage Pail Kids), June Carter Cash, John Carter Cash, Elizabeth Ashley, Mary Crosby and David Allan Coe. John Schneider (Dukes of Hazzard) gets to take the reins of the horses as he drives his narrator into the frontier.

Since this is a TV movie adaptation, this version of Stagecoach goes under a different set of pacing. There are commercial breaks that must be part of act structure (although no commercials on the Blu-ray). Director Ted Post is noted for helming Clint Eastwood in Hang ‘Em High. He understood TV from his decades of directing episodes of Gunsmoke, Wagon Train and Rawhide. This plays to the best of a TV Western. There’s a lot more talk and close ups of the musical stars. The fact that there’s four stars in the film, has the climax change so it isn’t about the Ringo Kid going it alone in his big face off. He’s got three others joining him with their guns drawn. Seeing how this is about having four accomplished performers as the headliners, it’s not that musical. Willie Nelson wrote a few songs, but this isn’t a long form music video for The Highwaymen. It’s a straight Western for Kristofferson like his work in Heaven’s Gate. While this isn’t quite up to the 1939 original, it’s much better than the 1966 remake.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The 1080p transfer brings out a lot of details lost on a 1986 TV broadcast. Willie Nelson looks so smooth in the higher resolution. The audio is DTS-HD MA Stereo. It’s not that overwhelming of a mix since it was meant to be heard on tiny TV speakers. The movie is subtitled.

No bonus features.

Olive Films presents Stagecoach. Directed by: Ted Post. Screenplay by: James Lee Barrett. Starring:
Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Elizabeth Ashley, Waylon Jennings. Running Time: 95 minutes. Rated: Unrated. Released: June 21, 2016.

Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.