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