Plot: What’s it about?
A stagecoach is soon to leave from Tonto, New Mexico and head to a wilderness settlement in Lordsburg, but the destination seems distant for now. The coach has nine passengers, each quite unique, both in situation and in motivation. Dallas (Claire Trevor) is a beautiful woman in search of a fresh start, while Lucy (Louise Platt) is pregnant and seeks to be at her husband’s side, despite her current condition. A slick talking card shark named Hatfield (John Carradine) claims to be riding to protect Lucy, but his presence doesn’t elicit much trust. Then there’s Gatewood (Berton Churchill), who seems to be in a rush to leave town, whiskey salesman Mr. Peacock (Donald Meek), the ever tipsy Dr. Boone (Thomas Mitchell), and the kind, but simple driver Buck (Andy Devine). But perhaps the highest profile riders are Sheriff Wilcox (George Bancroft) and his prisoner the Ringo Kid (John Wayne). Ringo is a master shooter with a bad reputation, not to mention he is fresh from a jail break. As time passes and the coach travels, those on it begin to learn more about each other. Tempers flare, tensions mount, and secrets are revealed. Those who once seemed noble might be less than such, while some with poor pasts could prove to be true heroes.
I am not a fan of westerns, but Stagecoach is a rare exception. Not only is Stagecoach my favorite western, I’d rank it as one of my favorite films, regardless of genre. I think what makes this such a great movie is the focus on the characters and what makes them tick. As the bulk of the film takes place within a stagecoach, we have ample time to learn about these folks as the ride moves on. The pace is a little slow, but ideal for this kind of flick, as enough time is taken to explore the characters and build toward later events. I wouldn’t call this a character study per se, as we’re not taken deep within these folks, just enough to see the true colors of their personas. Those on the coach are varied and all have secrets, though not all the secrets are bad ones. There is also some action at times and with director John Ford around, you know those scenes are well handled. But even there, it is more about how the characters react and behave in the action sequences, than the action itself. The cast is superb and John Wayne, whose work I normally don’t think much of, is simply incredible here. You can tell why he became such a icon, his performance is spot on here and to me, this is his finest work. Warner’s new treatment boasts a host of supplements, so if you own the previous release, an upgrade is more than worthwhile. This is a great movie and a true classic, do not miss Stagecoach.
Video: How does it look?
Stagecoach is presented in full frame, as intended. I’ve never seen the original DVD release, so I can’t do a comparison, but this is not up to snuff, in my opinion. Warner has worked miracles with some of their restored movies, so I had high hopes for this transfer. The movie looks decent and passable, but this is such a classic, it deserves better than this. The print has a lot of grain and looks quite worn in places, which I understand why, but given Warner’s restoration projects in the past, isn’t as easy to overlook. I know this movie is almost seventy years old, but Warner has the resources to make it shine like new.
Audio: How does it sound?
A simple mono option is provided here, which serves the needs of the material, but offers little beyond the basics. A few age related flaws can be heard, but pops and hiss are minimal, which is great news. As this is a mono soundtrack, don’t expect much depth or presence, but the elements have a good overall texture. So sound effects won’t shatter the windows, but as far as mono is concerned, they sound more than acceptable. The same holds true for the music, which sounds limited, but still comes across well enough. No troubles at all with the dialogue either, as vocals are clean and clear throughout. This disc also includes subtitles in English, Spanish, and French, if you should need those.
Supplements: What are the extras?
I have to admit, I am not often that taken with commentary tracks with authors, as the sessions usually feel second hand at best. I can read a book and learn about a lot of things, but the ins & outs of the production often need to come from someone who has there. Scott Eyman wrote a book on John Ford and has a wealth of various information, but I feel like I could have learned all this from his book. I hoped for a unique experience here, but that wasn’t in the cards. But the feature length piece on John Ford and John Wayne was terrific, a great inclusion that adds a lot of value to this release. Again, some of the information seems repeated, but there is a lot of great information here and the presentation is just terrific. The piece is well crafted and is a pleasure to watch, so you won’t want to miss this. This release also includes another new featurette on the production, a special radio adaptation of Stagecoach, and the film’s theatrical trailer.