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CRITERION COLLECTION

MOVIE INFO

Director:
John Ford
Cast:
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

Tagline:
A Powerful Story of 9 Strange People!

Synopsis:
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:
Budget
$531.300 thousand.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio:
English Monaural
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 97 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 5/25/2010

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Film Historian/Western Scholar Jim Kitses
Bucking Broadway Silent Film
• 1968 Video Interview with Director John Ford
Stagecoach Appreciation with Filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich
• “Dreaming of Jeanie” Featurette
• John Ford Home Movies
• “True West” Featurette
• “Yakima Canutt” Featurette
• 1949 Screen Director’s Playhouse Radio Adaptation
• Trailer


• 36-Page Booklet


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Stagecoach: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1939)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 12, 2010)

When I went into 1939’s Stagecoach for the first time, I did so with little eagerness. Westerns have never been my favorites, and I didn’t expect much from this old example of the genre. To my pleasant surprise, 1939’s 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 originally screened Stagecoach, all I knew 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 – 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 Kid" 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 most think of 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 It’s 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 like a stretch 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 span generations 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 entertaining and terrific Stagecoach was. Its high quality came as a complete shock, but it was a very happy one.


The Blu-ray Grades: Picture C+/ Audio B-/ Bonus B+

Stagecoach appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. After two prior DVD releases, I might now need to consider that Stagecoach will simply never look great on home video. This Blu-ray offered generally positive visuals, but it was far from flawless.

Overall, sharpness seemed good with only a few sporadic instances of softness. The movie occasionally became ill-defined, but not with much frequency. Most of the movie exhibited satisfactory to strong definition. Moiré effects and jagged edges were not a problem, and edge enhancement remained absent.

Print flaws were a more prominent issue. I noticed vertical lines that ran up and down the screen as well as specks and nicks. Some parts of the movie fared better than others, of course, and the defects never became overwhelming. Still, they created more than a few distractions.

Black levels were usually quite good. Occasionally they seemed a little inky, but for the most part, they were pretty deep and dark. Shadows were also satisfying the majority of the time, as only a few shots looked a bit thick. The image alternated from attractive to iffy, so I thought it deserved a “C+”, though I’m not sure we’ll ever get a better version.

I felt generally pleased with 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 usually seemed clear and reasonably natural. Both effects and music seemed decent but somewhat tinny and flat. The track displayed consistent hiss throughout the movie 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.

How did the picture and audio of this 2010 Blu-ray compare to those of the 2006 Special Edition release? I thought the mono audio was a wash, as neither sounded significantly superior to the other. Even with the various visual problems here, though, the Blu-ray demonstrated an upgrade over the DVD. It looked tighter, had stronger blacks, and decreased source flaws. Sure, they remained notable, but they weren’t as heavy, and the picture simply seemed more stable. As I mentioned earlier, it feels increasingly doubtful that we’ll ever get a great-looking Stagecoach, so this might be the best one to expect.

In terms of extras, we open with an audio commentary from film historian/Western scholar Jim Kitses. He gives us a running, screen-specific look at cast and crew, story, characters and themes, cinematic techniques, thoughts about director John Ford and his career, locations, the film’s release/reception and various production details.

At its best, the commentary provides an engaging and insightful look at the film. However, Kitses spends most of his time on interpretation of story and character, so we don’t learn a ton about the movie’s production. Kitses’ analysis is fine but doesn’t prove to be terrifically engaging. I would’ve preferred a commentary with more movie facts, though this one remains reasonably enjoyable.

For something from the early part of Ford’s career, we find a silent film entitled Bucking Broadway. Created in 1917, the movie lasts 54 minutes, 29 seconds and stars Harry Caray in a romantic Western of sorts. Frankly, it’s a pretty dull little melodrama, but it looks surprisingly good here, and it’s nice to have for historical reasons.

Another archival piece arrives via a 1968 Video Interview with Director John Ford. In this one-hour, 12-minute, and 29-second piece, Ford discusses many aspects of his life and career. Well, kind of. We get an unedited session, which means many interruptions to change reels of film as well as plenty of cantankerous asides from Ford. We may find more crabby comments to the interviewer than actually tidbits of information here!

Which is actually pretty darned entertaining in its own right. Do we learn much from Ford? Honestly, not really; the first part of the piece includes some good thoughts about his career, but it degenerates into politics and other areas after a while. Still, it’s an enjoyable, amusing look at the older Ford uncensored.

We get more thoughts about the flick through a Stagecoach Appreciation with Filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich. It goes for 14 minutes, 17 seconds as Bogdanovich relates notes about the production as well as interpretation of cinematic methods. As heard alongside other movies, Bogdanovich can be self-involved and fatuous. He shows those tendencies a little here, but he usually stays on target and gives us some useful notes.

Under John Ford Home Movies, we get additional archival bits. The compilation fills seven minutes, 13 seconds and shows an elderly Ford with his family and others, usually on Ford’s boat. Ford’s grandson/biographer Dan offers comments about the man and these pieces. Nothing particularly revelatory appears here, but some fun moments emerge.

Three featurettes follow. Dreaming of Jeanie lasts 21 minutes, 50 seconds and features writer Tag Gallagher as he offers interpretation of Stagecoach. He mostly discuss the movie’s visual elements and how they relate aspects of characters and story. Though the disc comes packed with other interpretive pieces, “Jeanie” probably works the best, as it digs the deepest and shows related artistic elements to illustrate its ideas.

True West runs 10 minutes, 44 seconds and offers notes from writer Buzz Bissinger. He discusses former trading post operator Harry Gouldman and the location at Monument Valley. That site became a prominent one in films – starting with Stagecoach - and “West” provides a cool history of the area and how it got into movies.

Finally, Yakima Canutt occupies 10 minutes and includes statements from stunt coordinator Vic Armstrong. He provides thoughts about the famed stuntman and his work, with an emphasis on Stagecoach, of course. This turns into another useful chat.

For a radio version of the film, we go to a 1949 episode of Screen Director’s Playhouse. This brings John Wayne and Claire Trevor back to play their parts; Ward Bond appears as the doctor, and John Ford, shows up for the opening and closing of the show. A visual action flick, Stagecoach doesn’t work well as a radio broadcast, especially when pared down to a roughly 30-minute adaptation. Still, it’s fun to have this as a historical extra.

Within the package’s 36-page booklet, we find a few components. It includes an essay from writer/filmmaker David Cairns as well as the original Ernest Haycox short story on which the film was based. Criterion makes excellent booklets, and this is another good one.

One of the best Westerns ever made, Stagecoach is absolutely terrific and clearly deserves its status as a classic. It’s one of those rare films that makes me want to see more from its participants. The Blu-ray provides flawed but generally good picture along with appropriate audio and a nice collection of supplements.

For fans who want the best-looking version of Stagecoach, this Blu-ray is the way to go, though they shouldn’t expect miracles, as the transfer continued to show many defects. Nonetheless, it was the most appealing presentation I’ve seen, and it could be very solid at times. This becomes the strongest release of Stagecoach on the market, though serious fans will still want to own the 2006 Special Edition DVD for its bonus features, almost none of which repeat here. If you only want one Stagecoach, though, go with the Criterion version.

To rate this film visit the original review of STAGECOACH

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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main