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John Ford
John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Andy Devine, John Carradine, Thomas Mitchell, Louise Platt, George Bancroft, Donald Meek, Berton Churchill
Writing Credits:
Ernest Haycox (story, "Stage to Lordsburg"), Dudley Nichols

A Powerful Story of 9 Strange People!

This landmark 1939 Western began the legendary relationship between John Ford and John Wayne, and became the standard for all subsequent Westerns. It solidified Ford as a major director and established Wayne as a charismatic screen presence. Seen today, Stagecoach still impresses as the first mature instance of a Western that is both mythic and poetic. The story about a cross-section of troubled passengers unraveling under the strain of Indian attack contains all of Ford's incomparable storytelling trademarks - particularly swift action and social introspection - underscored by the painterly landscape of Monument Valley.

Box Office:
$531.300 thousand.

Rated NR

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Monaural

Runtime: 97 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 10/28/1997

• Cast and Crew Bios
• Production Notes
• Theatrical Trailers


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

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Stagecoach (1939)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 15, 2006)

1939ís Stagecoach turned out to be an absolutely terrific movie. Exciting, funny, touching - this sucker packs the whole magilla and even manages not to seem as dated as most movies of its era.

Before I screened it, all I knew about Stagecoach was that it was a Western that paired John Wayne with director John Ford. As such, I expected a typical "shoot-em-up with Wayne as some archetypal hero who kills lots of Injuns and saves the day, blah blah blah.

That's not what I got. Actually, Stagecoach really isn't a "star vehicle" for Wayne at all. It's an ensemble piece and he doesn't even appear until about one-third of the way into the movie. The story takes a disparate group of folks, packs them into the eponymous wagon and details what happens to them as they make a risk-fraught trip through Apache territory.

While Stagecoach definitely offers some terrific action scenes Ė when the Apaches finally attack toward the end of the film, it's a doozy - it's really more of a personality drama as we observe the interactions of the characters. Wayne is surprisingly subdued and lacks the inflated swagger I associate with him. His performance as semi-outlaw "Ringo" seems honest and very human.

The other actors are uniformly very good. I sometimes have trouble with older films because the acting style is so much broader and more theatrical than we see now. That was one of the reasons fellow 1939 Best Picture nominee Of Mice and Men turned me off so greatly. Happily, that's not really the case with Stagecoach. While I wouldn't call the performances naturalistic, they seem appropriate and don't stand out in a negative way.

While I remember Stagecoach as a Wayne picture, the actor who enjoyed the most success due to it was clearly Thomas Mitchell. Probably best known as Uncle Billy in Itís a Wonderful Life, Mitchell appeared in three of the ten 1939 Best Picture nominees; in addition to Stagecoach, he featured in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and eventual winner Gone With the Wind. Although playing a drunk doesn't seem unusual for Mitchell - Uncle Billy enjoyed his booze, as did "Diz" in Mr. Smith... - he manages to make Doc Boone quite real and full in this film. That's probably why he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Stagecoach is such a well-realized film that even parts of it that could - and probably should - fail don't. I found the movie to be much funnier than most old films. Lots of humor doesn't cross-generational barriers well, but parts of Stagecoach were laugh-out-loud funny. And yes, they were supposed to be funny - no campy snickering here. The jokes themselves aren't that hot and a lesser movie would have bombed with them, but they work here. For example, one running gag concerns the fact no passenger can accurately remember the name of one other character. That bit has massive potential to flop, but it's portrayed so gently and subtly that it actually works. I should have cringed as the gag kept going and going, but the cast offered it so honestly that it stayed entertaining.

I can't emphasize how wonderfully entertaining and terrific Stagecoach was. It came as a complete shock, but it was a very happy one.

The DVD Grades: Picture C-/ Audio B-/ Bonus D

Stagecoach appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1. Because of those dimensions, the film has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though it didn't look much worse than you'd expect a more than 65-year-old movie to look, the picture of Stagecoach was a disappointment because it's clearly worse than a movie of its caliber should look.

Overall, sharpness seemed good with only a few sporadic instances of softness. The movie occasionally became ill-defined, but not with much frequency. Moirť effects and jagged edges were not a significant problem, but I noticed moderate edge enhancement through the film.

Print flaws were a more serious issue. The movie looked excessively grainy at times. I also noticed vertical lines that often ran up and down the screen as well as speckles, scratches, blotches, hairs and other debris. Iíve seen messier transfers, but Iíve also seen many cleaner ones.

Black levels varied quite a lot throughout the film but tended to be somewhat too dark and heavy. At times brightness seemed too strong but those occasions were rare and the image usually appeared overly dense. It's not a terrible problem but it could interfere with shadow detail, which often seemed murky and overly opaque. Despite its flaws, Stagecoach remained watchable. Still, I couldn't help but feel this film could really benefit from an extensive clean-up job.

More satisfactory was the movie's adequate monaural audio. I don't expect a whole lot from old soundtracks, and Stagecoach didn't give me much, but it worked decently for a film of its era. Dialogue could occasionally be a little hard to understand, but it's usually clear and reasonably natural. Both effects and music seemed decent but somewhat tinny and flat. The track displayed a small amount of background noise but I discerned no significant distortion. Again, it's not a particularly good track, but for such an old movie, it seemed a bit better than average.

Less exciting are the DVD's sparse supplements. It includes the standard decent-but-not-too-exciting Cast & Crew biographies for nine of the actors, two writers, two composers, and director Ford. These vary in quality from pretty detailed for big names like Ford or Wayne to very brief for some of the others.

We also get six trailers for films from Ford and Wayne. These include Stagecoach, They Were Expendable, Fort Apache, 3 Godfathers, The Searchers, and The Wings of Eagles. The DVD tosses in a few text screens full of production notes. These come in three categories: "Making the Stage", "Monument Valley", and "The Legacy of John Ford and John Wayne". While these notes are pretty interesting, I dislike the format; they'd be more palatable if packaged all together in one section. Still, the notes add to the experience and are worth the effort. Some text that lists the awards for which the film was nominated and/or won also appears.

Stagecoach is absolutely terrific and clearly deserves its status as a classic. Itís one of those rare films that makes me want to see more from its participants. Unfortunately, the DVD presents flawed picture and forgettable extras. The filmís worth a look, but this remains a disappointing release.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.6956 Stars Number of Votes: 23
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