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Stagecoach
The Criterion Collection

review by Zach B.

 

 

Not Rated

Running Time: 96 minutes

Starring: Claire Trevor, John Wayne, Andy Devine, John Carradine, Thomas Mitchell, Louise Platt, George Bancroft, Donald Meek, Berton Churchill, Tim Holt

Directed by: John Ford

 

 

Studio: Criterion

Retail Price: $39.95

Features: Audio Commentary with Jim Kitses, Theatrical Trailer, Bucking Broadway, John Ford Interview, Peter Bogdanovich, Dreaming Of Jeanie, John Ford Home Movies, True West, Yakima Canutt, Screen Director's Playhouse Radio Dramatization

Specs: 1.37:1 Full Frame, English Mono, English Subtitles, Chapter Selection (11 Chapters)

Released: May 25th, 2010

 

 


"Stagecoach" is presented in 1.37:1 full frame. This new digital transfer is quite good, but it does not eliminate the flaws in the movie's image you've probably seen over the years: plenty of scratches and dirt. The movie is still quite grainy, but is not that distracting. It almost seems built into the transfer lightly, if that makes sense. The black-and-white cinematography looks good though, and detail is pretty refined. I did find the image to be a little on the soft side and a bit faded at times, but this is more likely from the source print Criterion used. Nonetheless, this is a good and sturdy transfer for a classic and does not disappoint overall.

 


"Stagecoach" is presented in English Mono, just as we know the movie. Everything comes in clear and uniform: the dialogue, musical score and sound effects. I was really impressed in how high the fidelity was in this track, which actually does help things immensley (especially given the limited dynamic range). Best of all about this mono track is that I did not detect much in way of audio defects: hissing, scratches and the like. Very pleasing, indeed.

English subtitles are included.

 


Yes, "Stagecoach" is on DVD yet again, but since this is a Criterion release, you should know right from the start this is worth a look. They have created a whole new batch of supplements, and they do not disappoint.

On the first disc is a Audio Commentary with Jim Kitses, who is dubbed as a "western authority." Kitses sure knows his westerns and the film, inside and out. There's barely any moments of silence, as Kitses points out plenty of facts about the actors, the cinematography, editing and the film's meaning in general. There's also plenty to learn about the background of Ford and the actors too. It sounds like he's reading off notes a little bit, which is not a big deal, especially given the wealth of information. And is it me, or does Kitses sort-of sound like Sean Connery?

The Theatrical Trailer is included too, which makes the movie out to be like an epic and big event.

The second disc houses the rest. Bucking Broadway is a 1917 silent film John Ford made, and featuring a brand new score by Donald Sosin. To see Ford's roots, so to speak, this is a must watch. All things considered, the condition of the movie is surprisingly good.

A real treat is the John Ford Interview, which runs an hour and 12 minutes. Conducted by journalist Philip Jenkinson, Ford himself also a pretty in-depth look at a variety of topics. He speaks of growing up, how he got into filmmaking, John Wayne and the many nuances of "Stagecoach." While Ford puffs away at cigarettes, he comes forth with a certain attitude. Not crotchety per se, but that he's set in himself — take you want from what he says and his body of work, and nothing more.

Filmmaker and film historian Peter Bogdanovich (who was a Ford biographer) contributes a piece of his own, running 14 minutes. Bogdanovich speaks a lot about John Wayne, as well as his own impressions of the movie. With some stills shown too, Bogdanovich offers some interesting anecdotes involving Ford, plus what Orson Welles "cribbed" from "Stagecoach."

Dreaming Of Jeanie is a video essay by Tad Gallagher, who has written about Ford as well. His 22 minute piece examines the film's themes and characters, especially in relation to its visual style, using extensive clips and stills (including camera diagrams). It's a bit technical, but incredibly enlightening. This is wonderfully engaging and insightful.

John Ford Home Movies is another excellent addition, and really gives us another side of the director. Here, his grandson Dan — who yes, has written about his grandfather — offers narration over choice clips that show him more as a human being, and not something from the "publicity machine." It runs a little over 7 minutes, and the shots of him with John Wayne and Henry Fonda on a boat are pretty great.

True West is a video interview with author Buzz Bissinger, best known for writing "Friday Night Lights." This is a very intriguing piece, because it goes into a side of the film's production a lot probably don't know about: how a man named Harry Goudling, who was a trading post operator, played an important role in getting the film shot in Monument Valley. Bissinger is a captivating speaker in this near-11 minute supplement.

Also of interest is a piece on Yakima Canutt, the stuntman behind "Stagecoach." Canutt really revolutionized stunts in films, and Vic Armstrong speaks a lot about him in the 10 minutes. With clips and stills, Armstrong highlights Cannutt's talents and what he himself incorporated into "Raiders Of The Lost Ark." Fantastic.

Screen Director's Playhouse is a radio dramatization of the movie, broadcast in January 1949, and utlizing the talents of Claire Trevor and John Wayne. (Ford also introduces it.) It's a fun inclusion, and the DVD also includes MP3s of this production that you can copy onto your computer.

Last but not least is the booklet included inside the package. Critic David Cairns offers a great essay, and in a really nice touch, the short story that inspired the movie — "Stage to Lordsburg" by Ernest Haycox — is included too.

 


"Stagecoach" is one of the all time classics in American cinema, and it was a great feat for Criterion to obtain the rights. While the previous Warner Bros. 2-disc edition was excellent, fans of the movie should have no qualms of purchasing the film again. Criterion's presentation is quite good considering the age of the film, but the real reason is the quality and quantity of supplements: a whole host of perspectives on the film is given along with a look into the life and work of John Ford. This is a must-purchase, and should rank as one of 2010's best releases.

(Do note a Blu-ray version is also available.)