on 4 May 2015
Please note that the following review is for the Criterion US import Blu ray release. As is the case with all Criterion BDs this is region A locked meaning that you WILL need a multi region Blu ray player to view this. Unlike a handful of other Criterion titles the region coding cannot be bypassed on certain Panasonic models by pressing top menu on the mismatched region screen.
Iconic and genre defining, John Ford's legendary 1939 western Stagecoach is also fondly remembered as the first collaboration between Ford and his regular star player John Wayne beginning a partnership that would produce well over thirty movies including such favorites as The Searchers, Rio Grande and She Wore A Yellow Ribbon. Stagecoach was also Ford's first use of the infamous Monument Valley which spans the borders of Utah and Arizona, establishing possibly the most recognisable western landscape ever committed to celluloid which along with the Saguaro cactus became synonymous with the genre and immortalised for decades to come.
As there are countless reviews outlining the synopsis of Stagecoach I will avoid any lengthy breakdowns of what is a fairly standard western storyline concerning a colourful group of travellers who despite warnings of the ever present threat of Apache interference led by the ruthless war chief Geronimo all have their own personal reasons for making the treacherous journey from Tonto Arizona to Lordsburg New Mexico. Suffices to say Stagecoach is not your average shoot em-up cowboys and indians oater and is much more of a character driven piece especially as the opinions heat up within the tight confines of the stage leading the movie to far more complex themes involving class, tolerance and acceptance as well as solidifying ideals that would become favourite clichés of the western. Of course none of this would work if the screenplay and performances were below par but thankfully this isn't the case. The script is full of wit and intelligence never once feeling blighted by dated dialogue exchanges, the cast are totally believable and if the characters seem ever so slightly stereotypical then they are but what you have to remember is this was 1939 and since then Stagecoach has been copied and plagurised to the point where it no longer feels original but 75 years ago this was still fresh and new and the movie where it all began. Unquestionably the biggest star of Stagecoach was the least well known at the time having mostly starred in B movies and serials but from the moment Ford's camera zooms into a close up of a young, fresh faced John Wayne as The Ringo Kid, wielding a Winchester repeater rifle you know your witnessing the birth of a star in the making.
Another big ace card for Stagecoach is the visuals and despite being a film from the late 30s the cinematography is simply wonderful especially of the wide open vistas in and around Monument Valley. The feeling of space and long distance depth is immense despite the confines of the tight Academy Ratio with the huge skies reaching down to the endless horizons with composistions that would go on to define how the western would be photographed. But it isn't all pretty scenery that makes the look of Stagecoach so successful and thrilling. Cinematographer Bert Glennon utilises some incredibly inventive camera angles from the superbly shot river crossing through to the low slung camera angles that make the viewer believe the Apache horses are literally passing overhead whilst not forgetting the white knuckle chase of the finalé featuring some truly death defying stunt work by the award winning Yakima Canutt.
US boutique label Criterion present John Ford's legendary black & white masterpiece in an AVC encoded MPEG 4 1080p transfer, framed at the correct Academy Ratio of 1.37:1. According to the accompanying booklet the original negative for Stagecoach had been considered lost for decades. For this Blu ray release Criterion evaluated a number of different sources before deciding upon a 1942 nitrate duplicate to use as a basis for this transfer which featured strong detail and an accurate greyscale. They also admitted that the source was far from perfect with huge amounts of print damage especially around reel changes and action segments and although the restoration experts spent hundreds of hours removing damage inevitably some still remains as it couldn't have been removed without damaging the filmic texture and creating a processed look hated by true lovers of cinema.
Well considering what Criterion had to work with I am extremely pleased with how this has transferred to HD and this is by far the best I have ever seen Stagecoach look. The opening credits do look very dark and impenetrable but as soon as these were over the image tightened up considerably. First and foremost detail was wonderful from close ups of faces and textures on clothing through to intricacies on various buildings, dusty roads and the stagecoach itself. The magnificent panoramic shots of Monument Valley really make you appreciate how good this transfer is and what an improvement it is over standard definition with a fantastic feeling of depth that seems to stretch forever and the image flowed well in motion especially during the fast paced action sequences. As to be expected from a 75+ year old production there are some inconsistencies with some scenes looking far softer than others and contrast can vary but on the whole blacks are reasonably robust as are the greys and shadow detail can be revealing in the nighttime segments as well as the low lit interiors despite a little fading. As already mentioned this transfer does have the problem of print damage and indeed this can be very noticeable with scratches, hairs, dirt spots and vertical lines prevalent throughout but because removing all of these would have resulted in an over manipulated and digitised appearance I would much rather take these age related marks over a DNR smeared mess. Thankfully the thick natural grain structure is completely intact creating a wonderfully warm, inviting and filmic image which is one of the strongest points to this transfer. Could this look better? Quite possibly but Criterion have got to be commended with what they have achieved with the elements available and unless better preserved sources are unearthed this is more than acceptable just don't expect a restoration along the lines of Criterion's fantastic 3:10 to Yuma Blu ray.
Staying authentic to the source Criterion have presented Stagecoach with its original monaural soundtrack delivered in an uncompressed 1.0 LPCM rendering. As with the visuals Criterion have tried to present the best they possibly could and taken the soundtrack from various elements. The resulting mix is far from perfect with light background hiss ever present as well as the occasional slight imperfection. That said this is crisp and clear with well prioritised dialogue and a lively feel to the foley effects and music score. There are no real noticable cracks or pops and no distortion issues. This is hardly dynamic and as to expected lacks weight and low end but comes across as you would expect a 1939 picture to sound.
This is where this Criterion Blu ray really comes into its own with a completely exhaustive selection of very well produced special features beginning with a feature length audio commentary with western film historian Jim Kitses and a 70+ minute interview with director John Ford filmed in 1968 and presented in HD. Also included is a 55 minute full length 1917 silent western by John Ford entitled Bucking Broadway presented in HD, a video interview with writer and director Peter Bogdanovich, a selection of John Ford's home movies running around 7 minutes again presented in HD, an interview with stunt coordinator Vic Armstrong who shows his appreciation for Stagecoach stuntman Yakima Canutt and a short 10 minute featurette True West with details on how Monument Valley was brought to the attention of the producers. As is always the case with Criterion the insert booklet is of exceptional quality as is the packaging making this feel a very special and worthy release.
Stagecoach was John Ford's first western in over a decade and despite the studio's initial unwillingness for the director to make a western this movie became a defining work in film history reinvigorating the genre and introducing us to the pairing of Ford and Wayne as well as the beautiful location of Monument Valley. For sure this is dated now and modern audiences may well struggle with the style and execution with what is a picture approaching its 76th birthday but without a doubt this has a timeless quality that is nothing but entertaining and a film that should be on the must see list of any self respecting movie fanatic. Criterion's lovingly produced Blu ray is a joy to behold with a gorgeous and unmolested true to source picture transfer and the supplementary features are nothing short of exceptional. If you are Blu ray multi region enabled this American import comes highly recommended.
on 21 December 2008
I recently purchased the region 1 s/e that is shown in the above graphics and thought some one should give a review of the special features.They consist of a commentary by author,the life and times of john ford,Scott eyman,which is very informative and enjoyable,a new 84min documentary on ford/wayne parternership,which is excellent and a new 30min retrospective on the making of the movie,which unfortunately is narrated by scott eyman and therefore covers most of the same ground of the commentary.I hope this will help prospective buyers make up their minds about which edition to buy.I posted this because in so many movies the reviews seldom review the actual edition shown and it is hard to know which to buy.
As the rights pass from distributor to distributor, there have been quite a few issues of the 1939 Stagecoach, from Universal's barebone's UK PAL issue to Warner's NTSC single-disc edition that included trailers for various John Ford films to their more ambitious two-disc edition with a Scott Eyman audio commentary which also included the documentary American Masters - John Ford/John Wayne: The Filmmaker and the Legend, featurette Stagecoach - A Story of Redemption and a vintage radio adaptation. It doesn't help that Amazon have lumped the reviews for all the different editions together, but thus far the best to go far is Criterion's excellent two disc NTSC set (though bear in mind the Bluray edition is Region A locked).
Even in 1939 there wasn't anything strikingly original about Stagecoach, but that doesn't stop it being a terrific little picture even if, stylistically, it's a very schizophrenic one. Much of the film, particularly the interior scenes, is very much a 1930s picture, yet once they reach the ferry and the big battle with the Apache kicks in it suddenly becomes a strikingly modern one with far more imaginative and dynamic camerawork than you usually find in Ford's films, making it no surprise that this was the film Greg Toland used to teach Orson Welles about filmmaking, only for the style to suddenly revert almost to the 1920s once it reaches its destination, Lordsburg. Indeed, the scenes with Luke Plummer have a look and feel that could almost have come straight out of a silent western, albeit a moodily photographed one (throughout the picture Bert Glennon's photography opts for darker, deeper blacks than was the norm for the genre) - although Ford ultimately decides to play the dialogue-free scene almost by sound alone. You don't even get to see the final gunfight, Ford cutting away as soon as it begins, preferring tension over action. Yet somehow the grab bag of styles melds surprisingly well and the film is still remarkably entertaining and holds up much better 70 years on than its forgotten remakes.
The surprisingly rough looking title sequence, complete with tramline scratching, doesn't bode well for Criterion's much-vaunted improved transfer, but once the film gets started the quality improves massively: it's probably fair to say this is the very best it's ever looked on the small screen, and possibly the best it's looked since it came out. Also included among the copious extras on Criterion's two-disc set (including 72 minutes of unedited footage of a typically difficult Ford interview with Philip Jenkinson) is the restored silent John Ford comedy Bucking Broadway, starring its producer Harry Carey Jr. as a cowhand who follows his fiancé (Molly Malone) to New York when she runs out on him and her Mark Twain lookalike father with a city slicker played by Vester Pegg, the ugliest of the Plummer boys in Stagecoach (the one who couldn't even hit a cat at four paces). Since neither of her beaus is exactly an oil painting, unless it's one of Dorian Grey, she's obviously not got particularly high standards, but the same could be said of whoever decided to back this story. A tiresome affair even at 54 minutes that veers more to maudlin sentimentality over comedy - neither of the two would-be comic setpieces work and there are few attempts to mine the situation for comedy elsewhere - it's probably fair to say that this wasn't funny in 1917 and it certainly isn't funny today. There are a couple of interesting visuals, but it's a long, hard slog.
on 12 December 2009
Stagecoach (John Wayne) [DVD] Directed by John Ford in 1939. Starring John Wayne, Claire Trevor, John Carradine, Thomas Mitchell, Andy Devine, Donald Meek, Louise Platt, Tim Holt and George Bancroft.
Stagecoach has often been credited with reviving the Western in Hollywood in the Forties. Rather, though, it coincided with a whole Western boom, appearing in the same year - as Dodge City, The Oklahoma Kid, Union Pacific and Jesse James. Director John Ford wanted to cast the film cheaply, so he hired John Wayne - whose career had so far failed to take off, and Claire Trevor. Ford surrounded them with excellent character players like Thomas Mitchell, Berton Churchill, Donald Meek, George Bancroft, Andie Devine and John Carradine. For every one of them the role in Stagecoach was to prove most memorable to his career. The essence of the story is the interaction of a little group of characters under the stress of a perilous journey. The expository opening scene, set in Tonto, lasts twelve minutes, during which time every character is carefully and comprehensively introduced. Stagecoach stands alone for its epic quality both of its panoramas of the West and its human emotions. At the same time it permanently formed Western style. John Ford was the first director to make use of the spectacular topography of Monument Valley. The final shoot -out has since Stagecoach, become a cliché. The contrast between the innocence of the wilderness and the ambiguous `blessings of civilization' are brilliantly stitched into a smoothly developed narrative, which climaxes with the famous attack on the stagecoach. John Wayne, in the role of `Ringo Kid' that made him famous, remains the best remembered of the passengers although it was Thomas Mitchell as the drunken Doc Boone who has to be forcibly sobered up en - route to deliver a baby, who deservedly won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1939. Richard Hagerman, Franke Harling, John Leipold and Leo Shuken won the Academy Award for the Best Music Score.
on 10 September 2000
The classic western, Sfagecoach, launched John Wayne as a major screen star and was the first of 10 epic films Wayne and director, John Ford made together.The first of a new sophisticated type of western, it re-established the genre as a box office draw. The spectacular Monument Valley is the backdrop as the drama of the stagecoach journey unfolds. A party of misfits; a drunken doctor,woman of ill-repute,a card shark, a whiskey drummer and an ailing cavalry officer's wife are enroute to Lordsburg,across Apache territory. Geronimo has jumped the reservation and is on the warpath. John Waynes entrance to the film is one of his most memorable scenes, and the swinging of the winchester" so effctive, was improvised by him. The Ringo Kid, Wayne, has broken out of jail to avenge the murders of his brother and father. He hijacks the stage only to find the marshall riding shot gun. The simple plot is enhanced by the class conflict amongst the passengers and the thrilling action scenes directed by Ford. The long expected attack by the Apaches, provides the first extensive Indian chase in western history. Yakima Canutt delivered the daring stunts.As Wayne later said, no such chase could ever have happened as the Indians would have shot the lead horses and that would have been that.Holywood never let truth get in the wy of a good scene The cavalry save the day and Ringo gets his just deserves. As the Ringo Kid ,Wayne begins to develop the character which became his own. The "diamond in the Rough" the tough, loner exterior with the heart of gold. A man who did not judge others by their reputation but by their deeds and words. A true gentleman when others fail the test. He is gentle and protective towards women but not pushy, usually tongue and reticent. John Wayne received only $3000 for the part although he was the leading male.However the career move from B to A movies, which it meant, was more important than the money. His good looks and athletic physique proved to be a winner with the college audiences and his film career never looked back as he grew to be the ideal of the all American hero. A truly great western, it received 7 Oscar nominations but only 2 awards, Best supporting actor for Thomas Mitchell as the doc and Best score. A must for all Wayne/western fans.
on 7 November 2006
One of the great Westerns is done no justice by this dreadful Universal Pictures 2006 DVD release. This is such an important film, featuring one of cinema's most popular stars, that it deserves a proper restoration. Watch the astonishing Warner special editions of Casablanca and The Adventures Of Robin Hood to see what can be done with films from this era.
on 6 April 2003
John Ford's 1939 classic "Stagecoach" is a landmark film in the history of western movies in so many ways, the most memorable of which is the emergence of John Wayne as a major star. But more importantly the good guys in the white hats versus the bad guys in the black hats is finally replaced by real human beings who have their strengths and weaknesses. "Stagecoach" is about six passengers, the driver, a sheriff and an outlaw who joins them on their journey. Wayne plays the Ringo Kid, who has been framed for a murder and is seeking the real killers; Claire Trevor plays Dallas, a prostitute fleeing her unhappy life; Thomas Mitchell is the courageous but alcoholic Dr. Josiah Boone; John Carradine is the gambler, Hatfield; Berton Churchill is Henry Gatewood, a banker who has embezzled a fortune; Donald Meek is Samuel Peacock, a mousy little salesman; Louise Platt is Lucy Mallory, a pregnant woman traveling to join her husband; Andy Devine is the stagecoach driver, Buck and George Bancroft is the tough but fair minded Sheriff Curly Wilcox.
"Stagecoach" was filmed in what would prove to be Ford's favorite locale, Monument Valley, Utah. During their journey the personality of each character is revealed as Lucy gives birth, the stagecoach is attacked by Indians, and the Ringo Kid gets revenge on his enemies. A nice balance between character study and action, "Stagecoach" sets standards for how westerns should look and how characters should be real people. Wayne does not really stand out in this strong ensemble cast, but we can clearly see all the elements of the persona that would make him a screen legend. Final word of advice: skip the sequel and stick to the original. Whether you are a fan of the Duke or of the genre, this is one western you have to watch at some point in your life.
As you've probably gathered most of the reviews are for the 'DVD' version of John Ford’s revered 1939 Western “Stagecoach”. And the BLU RAY has long been available in the States and several other territories. But which issue do you buy if you live in Blighty?
Unfortunately the sought-after USA Criterion release is REGION-A LOCKED - although it doesn't say so on Amazon. So it WILL NOT PLAY on most UK BLU RAY players unless they're chipped to play 'all' regions (which the vast majority aren't). Don’t confuse BLU RAY players that have multi-region capability on the 'DVD' front – that won’t help.
Luckily the European issues are REGION B and C - so that will play the classic Black and White movie on UK machines.
So check your player’s region coding acceptability if you want the pricier Criterion release…or opt for the foreign territories BLU RAYS that weigh in at a far healthier price…
on 18 September 2012
Ignore all the other reviews on this page at Amazon. They all refer to other iterations of this movie. This Blu-ray disc from Criterion presents Stagecoach in the best picture quality available. The original camera negative was lost many, many years ago and only a certain amount can be done to restore Stagecoach to its original glory. This Criterion Blu-ray disc has many scenes where the picture quality is so good as to be startling. However there are also many scenes with innumerable scratches and masses of grain.
The two most important aspects of this Criterion Blu-ray disc are that it presents the film as well as it is ever likely to look and that the disc is Zone A locked. Only those with Blu-ray players able to play Zone A discs should purchase this BRD. 99% of Blu-ray players in the U. K cannot play Zone A discs.
on 15 September 2006
A group of seven strangers set off on a stagecoach to Lordsburg, New Mexico, along the way they pick up fugitive The Ringo Kid (John Wayne) whom has just escaped prison and is now tracking the people responsible for killing his own brother. Of course the story is made all that more interesting when they are informed Geronimo and his group of Apaches is on the loose in the area; but they go on anyway.
Stagecoach has one of the most unique storyline of any Western, it primarily dealing with the relationship of those on the journey. Contrasting personalities cause confrontations almost instantly, but it's the lingering fear of the Apaches inevitable attack that gives this film its greatest twist. The Apache attack on the Stagecoach is nothing short of superb, the cinematography, so unique at that time made this movie stand out from the rest, and still stands up today as an amazing action set piece. Back in 1939 danger was not a factor for stuntmen, which simply creates an authentic action scene rarely seen today.
Although I have already commented on the cinematography it definitely deserves another mention. Filmed on location in Monument Valley, Utah, one of John Fords many trademarks, the scenery is so stunning it deserves a second watch to take it all in.
Although John Wayne had starred in over 80 movies, it was his role in Stagecoach that catapulted him to movie stardom. He plays his role effortlessly as the "nice guy" he plays in most films, and you can never say he "overplays" a character. The rest of the cast are great in their various personas, but it's Claire Trevor who stands out as Dallas, a woman left bitter after being run out of town by the local females for her questionable behaviour.
At the helm was one of the greatest directors of Old Hollywood, John Ford. This set the bar for not just all Westerns but all movies to follow. Characterisation and relationships between characters was rarely explored in as much detail before this movie was made. Ford has taken stereotypical characters and brought them to life by giving them believable personalities and revealing them for the people they are underneath; whether that is a hypocrite or just a misunderstood "lady of the night" in the case of Dallas. (Nominated for seven academy awards and winning to of them (Best Supporting Actor and Best Music Scoring) this movie was seen as revolutionary for its time. Orson Welles famously watched this movie over 40 times while creating Citizen Kane.
The first thing you probably noticed about the DVD is the box, yes; I agree it does look hideous, but fortunately that's not the box I received and believe me the correct box is a lot more pleasing to eye, however that is not really important. What is important is the extra features, basically there is none, but thinking about, it would be almost impossible to find any thing extras about such an old film. Like most films from the era it was shot in Full Screen 4:3, which you cannot really complain about considering the age of this movie. I have also read many complaints about the quality and treatment of this masterpiece, but to be honest I had no problem with and it certainly does not spoil the enjoyment of this movie.
In simple words this movie is a masterpiece of Old Hollywood, this movie should be adored by none Western lovers and Western lovers alike, of course to class this movie as a Western is slightly false as many genres are represented here; Western, Drama, Comedy, Romance and Action.