Stagecoach 2.0

October 28, 2011 | By

Editor's advice: when in doubt about copy art, always run with a hot babe, such as Ann-Margrock, as captured by Norman Rockwell for Stagecoach's stunning 1966 campaign.

Twilight Time’s latest DVD release is the 1966 remake of the classic 1939 John Ford western Stagecoach, of which I may have seen decades ago, but only recall the famous horse-jumping stunt where a man jumps from one team of horses to another while the stagecoach is barreling ahead at top speed.

Knowing Fox’ ’66 film was a remake, the question that often goes through a reviewer’s head is ‘Should I see the original?’ and my answer here was fast and flat: NO!

I felt in this case the lack of prior knowledge was a positive simply because I could watch the film with fresh eyes, no context of its illustrious predecessor, and assess the film based on its merits as a mid-sixties studio western with all the inherent clichés typical of the era when a studio was trying to wrangle audiences into cinemas with a familiar property, starring a multi-generational cast picked from classic & current films, and TV.

The inclusion of TV stars or newcomers emerging from TV onto the big screen isn’t new – James Dean began his rise to stardom by honing his craft on live teleplays during the Idiot Box’s Golden Years before Rebel Without a Cause (1953) – but the sixties was a significant decade where TV stars crossed over into films and / or were moving between mediums until things professionally clicked – like David Janssen appearing in several classic shows over his career – Richard Diamond (1957-1960), The Fugitive (1963-1967) – and popping up in the odd feature film, such as Albert Zugsmith’s heartwarming family film (ahem…) Dondi (1961), the genuinely good suspense film Warning Shot (1967), and co-starring in the prestigious (but deadly dull) Papal potboiler The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968).

Stagecoach was packaged no differently than a present day film in order to draw in the broadest possible audience, but it had the big hurdle of standing on its own in spite of the shadow of Ford’s ’39 film looming close by. Hollywood always reworked classic properties and concepts into ‘new’ movies, but remaking Stagecoach was akin to a new Wizard of Oz or Gone With the Wind – two other films made during that magic year of 1939.

Hollywood did try and evoke the spirit of its classics now and then – witness MGM building up the publicity pap for Raintree County (1957) like a new GWTW for a new generation – but Stagecoach marked a rare decision to remake something a genre’s fans felt was so pure, you just shouldn’t touch it.

MGM had in fact tried it to some extent with Mutiny on the Bounty, remaking the 1935 film in 1962 on a massive scale – and like Stagecoach, it shared one key commonality: they kept the title, which was to some extent a viable commercial brand. It worked for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1931 and 1941 for MGM, but Stagecoach was part of the 1939 club, which to some extent meant critics, genre fans, John Wayne fans, and John Ford acolytes would watch the film and pass judgments with a specific bias in 1966.

The film has been hard to come by in the past, so TT’s DVD gives the film a new life in its best incarnation to date, and viewers can judge for themselves whether time has been kind to the efforts of the film’s makers, or whether it still has the power to create an upset. I found it had flaws based in more practical areas of scriptwriting and direction, which are detailed in the review [M].

A big plus: it’s a gorgeous transfer from an equally gorgeous print, and as with prior TT DVDs, the film sports an isolated stereo track of Jerry Goldsmith’s music.

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Sticking with the topic of soundtracks, I erred in thinking Varese expanded CD of Marco Beltrami’s Mimic score came out last week – it streeted Oct. 10 – but it was gone and sold out from the label in 1.5 days, which doesn’t change my view that 1000 copies was a mistake. Perhaps the recording will make its way to CD again in 5 years…

Kritzerland just announced a 2-disc set of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), which will either be great news for the thousands of adults weaned on the film as kids, or something horrific. I tend to fall onto the childhood fan camp, as when I reviewed the film eons ago I was pleasantly surprised to find out it was more weird & surreal than I remembered, plus the child-catcher was still a terrifying thing to begold, and the script and songs sometimes contained little bits of adult subtext. (I also recall the toy car in which one could pull out the auto’s ‘bat wings’ so it could ‘fly.’) Yes, the title song is evil, but it could be worse: the film could’ve been scored by ABBA.

On FSM’s message board are more thorough details of the set’s contents, plus a link to an interview with CD producer Bruce Kimmel (whose First Nudie Musical is coming out on Blu-ray), and a link to a road tax advert that played on British (or Aussie?) TV referencing the film. (‘No Exceptions! No Excuses! No Escape’)

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This past Wednesday a genuinely rare 35mm print of Julian Roffman’s The Mask (1961) was screened at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, featuring an intro by the film’s curators, and a post-screening peek at the actual mask used in Canada’s first horror film + first 3D film + first film to make back its cost in presales prior to release + first film to be distributed internationally by a major American studio.

I’ll have thoughts on the screening, some media bits, and of course a review of Roffman’s film, plus his prior film, The Bloody Brood (1959) about murderous Beatniks, and the first film to star Peter Falk.

Oh, and those who’ve no idea who Ann-Margrock is, she’s Ann-Margret’s alter-ego in the wonderful world of The Flintstones. Ahem.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor ( Main Site / Mobile Site )

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