• Stagecoach

    Released By: Olive Films
    Released On: June 21, 2016
    Director: Ted Post
    Cast: Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Elizabeth Ashley, Waylon Jennings
    Year: 1986
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    The Movie:

    Made-for-TV movies. Most of them suck. True story. Long before networks like HBO, AMC, and Showtime pushed the boundaries of what you could show on television, programming largely consisted of safe content...mediocrity at its most mediocre. So, when you hear about a classic like John Ford's 1939 film Stagecoach being remade almost fifty years later for the small screen? Warning bells. But, when you take that remake and throw the four country legends known as The Highwaymen, add Opry star June Carter Cash, and then drop a Hazzard County Duke boy on top of it? Well, sir, that becomes what I call, "must-see TV".

    The premise of Stagecoach is pretty much that of its namesake. Buck (John Schneider), is a driver for the Overland Stagecoach Company, recently arrived in Tonto, Arizona. His mission, should he choose to accept it, is to get his coach and passengers safely to Lordsburg, New Mexico. It sounds like it should be a simple enough task, especially with a shotgun guard riding beside him (every wonder where that term "riding shotgun" comes from?), but they've got a potential roadblock ahead; that pesky Geronimo and his Apache braves are apparently on the warpath, something about having their land taken from them. Though he gripes about the not-so-princely pay of 8 dollars a month, Buck is committed to a job well done, even if his shotgun guard has turned tail and run at the mention of wild Indians.

    Assistance comes in the form or the Marshal of Tonto, a surly man named Curly Wilcox (Johnny Cash) who agrees to guard the coach on its trip to Lordsburg once he hears that the Wanted Dead or Alive Plummer Brothers have taken up residence there. A bizarre assortment of passengers join the two for the trip; a gunfighter-turned-dentist named Doc Holliday (Willie Nelson), an ex-convict compulsive gambler named Hatfield (Waylon Jennings), a shady booze salesman, a banker who seems to be in an awful big hurry to get out of town and very reluctant to relinquish his hold on a mysterious black bag, a very pregnant Lucy Mallory (Mary Crosby), and Dallas (Elizabeth Ashley), a used-up prostitute who can't stop waxing philosophically on the problems of everyone in the world. Shortly into the trip, a new addition appears in the form of escaped outlaw The Ringo Kid (Kris Kristofferson), who Curly is obligated to bring to justice in Lordsburg.

    Making their way across the plains, this odd group of characters interact with each other in the forced confines of the coach, giving each a better understanding of the other. But as their destination looms closer, more obstacles appear. Is the dentist, Doc Holliday qualified to deliver a baby when he's got a pint of whiskey in one hand and a stogie in the other? Will the Ringo Kid get the jump on Curly in an attempt to escape the end of a rope in Lordsburg? What's in that black bag that Tonto banker Henry Gatewood is carrying? Or, do any of these things require worrying when their chances of being scalped and left for dead in the desert sun are looking better all the time?

    The biggest flaw in Stagecoach is definitely the aforementioned television movie format. The sets are minimal, the direction is pedestrian, the story is simple, and the fade-outs for commercial break are plentiful. Despite some gunfighting action, the fact that this was broadcast in 1986 pretty much guarantees a complete absence of blood or anything else too messy. Shoddy acting abounds as well, particularly in the form of Elizabeth Ashley, who accompanies every one of her worldly wise lines of dialogue with a the same pained look towards something in the distant sky, but with few exceptions, we're not looking at Oscar-worth performances here. Yes, this is a made-for-TV film that never lets you forget it, with narrow aspect ratio and chintzy "country" soundtrack.

    But, hey, who cares? Shortcomings be damned, this is Stagecoach, a chance to see Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, June Carter Cash, John Schneider, and hey, even Jessi Colter on the same screen, some walking around with guns, some walking around in skirts, but all living and breathing in the same space. Who needs stellar levels of direction and cinematography when you've got The Man in Black and Kris Kristofferson wearing cowboy hats and conversing with each other? It may be flawed as hell and would probably be outright terrible otherwise, but this legendary cast makes Stagecoach thoroughly entertaining from start to finish.


    Olive brings Stagecoach to Blu-ray in an AVC-encoded 1.33:1 aspect ratio that looks pretty damn terrific for a 30 year-old made-for-TV movie. Colours are decent if not a little muted, black levels are good, and there's actually a healthy amount of grain found throughout. I didn't notice any glaring visual issues, such as edge enhancement, but there is a bit of dirt and debris to be found in some scenes. Nothing that would constitute a dealbreaker, though. The DTS-HD Master Audio stereo track is perfectly suitable for the film, carrying dialogue, effects, and countrified soundtrack nicely, with no hisses, pops or distortion.

    English subtitles are provided, but the disc comes completely free of supplements outside of a chapter selection.

    The Final Word:

    It probably won't ever live up to the reputation of its namesake, but the 1986 version of Stagecoach offers an enjoyable enough film with the added benefit of seeing a number of country legends, some no longer with us, all in one place.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!