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Thursday, June 16, 2016

STAGECOACH (1986) -- DVD Review by Porfle



First things first: John Ford's 1939 production of STAGECOACH is a timeless classic that will likely never be surpassed, and any remake pales in comparison.

That said, I'd also like to add that the 1986 made-for-TV version of STAGECOACH (Olive Films, Blu-ray and DVD) is, despite my initial misgivings and skepticism, a terrific albeit modest Western in its own right.

The story of a disparate group of people traveling by stage through dangerous Apache country is basically the same, but done differently enough to reward our interest.  Not only are the individual stories of these characters engaging, but the ever-present threat of attack by Geronimo and his warriors builds up to an exciting action sequence in the film's latter half that pays off really well, leading then to the climactic shootout in Lordsburg.


One source of skepticism on my part was the overt stunt casting.  Country-western singers abound, especially those of the "outlaw" variety--Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny and June Carter Cash, and Waylon Jennings play major roles, while Billy Swan, David Allan Coe, and Jesse Colter can also be seen here and there.  What's surprising is that they're all such naturally good actors.  I mean, really good.

A taciturn Kristofferson stands in for John Wayne as the Ringo Kid, a wrongly-convicted prison escapee on his way to Lordsburg to confront the men who murdered his brother. Johnny Cash is Marshal Curly Wilcox, out to capture both men. 

Jennings is gentleman gambler Hatfield, gruff but smooth, who assumes a protective role regarding the pregnant wife (Mary Crosby as Mrs. Mallory) of a cavalry officer stationed near Lordsburg.  Each is not only fully convincing in his role, but, in fact, outstanding.


One interesting difference from the original film is that the character of Doc Josiah Boone, played in 1939 by Thomas Mitchell, has been replaced by none other than Doc Holliday himself.  Willie Nelson fits comfortably into the role, with nary a hint of "novelty" value in his casting.  This inclusion of Holliday as one of the passengers is inspired.

Elsewhere in the cast, "Dukes of Hazzard" co-star John Schneider actually manages to look grizzled as coach driver Buck.  Tony Franciosa (TENEBRE, A FACE IN THE CROWD) does his nervous act as Gatewood, the embezzing banker on the lam, and celebrated oddball Anthony Newley puts in a brief but marvelous appearance as tipsy whiskey salesman Trevor Peacock. 

As fallen woman Dallas who will eventually warm up to Ringo, Elizabeth Ashley puts her broad acting skills to good use.  Merritt Butrick (STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN) and Western legend Lash La Rue are also on hand.

While dazzled by such an eclectic yet effective cast, I also found the screenplay by James Lee Barrett (who also wrote the screenplays for THE GREEN BERETS, SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, and THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD) to be consistenty engaging from start to finish, with plenty of sharp dialogue.


Production values are above-average for a TV movie.  In fact, I often felt as though I was watching a feature film despite the occasional fadeout for a commercial. Direction is capably handled by old pro Ted Post, who also helmed such memorable films as MAGNUM FORCE, HANG 'EM HIGH, BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES, and THE BABY.

The DVD from Olive Films is in the original 1.33:1 full screen with stereo sound.  Subtitles are in English.  No extras.   

If one lowers expectations just enough to accept a remake of a John Ford classic on its own terms, then this version of STAGECOACH should easily rise to meet them.  As an avid Western fan, it's the kind of Western I love to make an acquaintance with and then get to know better with each repeat viewing.

Buy it at Amazon.com:
Blu-ray
DVD

Release date: June 21, 2016



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