Color, 1966, 114 mins. 4 secs.
Directed by Gordon Douglas
Starring Ann-Margret, Red Buttons, Alex Cord, Bing Crosby, Mike Connors, Robert Cummings, Van Heflin, Stefanie Powers, Slim Pickens, Keenan Wynn
Signal One (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL), Pretty Gold (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany RB/R2 HD/PAL), Sidonis Calysta (Blu-ray & DVD) (France RB/R2 HD/PAL), Twilight Time (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.50:1) (16:9)


StagecoachAnn-Margret was quite the hot property in the mid-'60s as she bounced around between major studios including Columbia Pictures, 20th Century Fox, MGM, and Universal, with projects alternating between hyper-energetic musicals and gleeful, unadulterated junk food like Kitten with a Whip. For some reason Fox decided to go against the grain by repeatedly casting her in glossy remakes of its own properties, starting with her second film (a poorly received but tackily entertaining version of State Fair) and moving on to The Pleasure Seekers, a sexier, Spanish-set updating of Three Coins in the Fountain. Finally her '60s run at Fox ended with a sort-of-all-star version of Stagecoach, a revamp of the venerable John Ford classic that Stagecoachmade John Wayne a star and established most of the genre's conventions for the next several decades. The idea of remaking the Ford film Stagecoachas a big, bright, colorful CinemaScope epic isn't a bad one, but the reception turned out to be appreciative but muted when this rolled into theaters with inevitable comparisons to the classic original. That's not surprising given that the bland Alex Cord gets stuck in the John Wayne role and barely makes an impression at all, but it's a real blast to see Ann-Margret (wearing some very anachronistic eyeliner) rubbing shoulders with Bing Crosby and Red Buttons across the plains to the accompaniment of one of the best early scores by the peerless composer Jerry Goldsmith.

For those unfamiliar with the story, several very different personalities are thrown together for a perilous stagecoach journey between the unsettled lands of Arizona and New Mexico. Before departure we get to meet some of them including vulnerable and good-hearted "dance hall hostess" Dallas (Ann-Margret), hard-drinking doctor Josiah Boone (Crosby), pregnant young Lucy (Powers), financial swindler Henry Gatewood (Cummings), professional gambler Hatfield (Connors), and colorful booze peddler Mr. Peacock (Buttons). Driven Stagecoachby the rollicking Buck (Pickens), the stagecoach soon puts itself in the sights of a horde of attacking Indians with the sharp-shooting Ringo Kid Stagecoach(Cord) offering their best chance at survival.

Despite the inflated running time (almost 20 minutes longer than its predecessor), the entire production is engaging and efficiently mounted by director Gordon Douglas, who could seemingly tackle any genre thrown at him based on Them!, In Like Flint, The Detective, Slaughter's Big Rip-Off, and of course, Viva Knievel! Cementing the film's weird pop culture collisions, it also comes outfitted with a theme song by Wayne Newton(!), "Stagecoach to Cheyenne," and closing credit paintings of the cast by Norman Rockwell (who also appears briefly on screen), which were also repurposed for the theatrical poster. It's all total hokum of course, but the sheer novelty of seeing that cast thrown together in a big studio production is tough to resist if you're a fan of '60s cinema and a kind of precursor of sorts to the star-riddled disaster films of the 1970s.

StagecoachFor some bizarre reason, Fox essentially buried this film for decades and never bothered to release it on VHS Stagecoachat all. However, the film refused to stay hidden and interest continued to swell, largely helped when soundtrack label Film Score Monthly chose this as its inaugural official CD release in 1998 paired up with Goldsmith's The Loner. The film went on to become the eighth title ever released by Twilight Time as a DVD edition in 2011, which sold out in 2014. In the interim, two Blu-ray releases appeared in Europe in 2013 from Germany and France, the latter adding on a video intro by Bertrand Tavernier and Patrick Brion (in French only) and both boasting a bright, colorful restored transfer delivered by Fox. That same excellent source can be found on the 2017 UK edition from Signal One, available on both Blu-ray and DVD. The LPCM English mono audio does a great job of supporting that iconic Goldsmith score, which sounds great from the moment it comes bursting out of your speakers during those main titles. The big new extra here is an audio commentary with the always great C. Courtney Joyner and True West Magazine's Henry Parke, who speculate about the film's peculiar dive into relative obscurity, the differences between this and Ford's version (not to mention the '86 TV remake), the increased brutality of the Indian attacks, the career statuses of the major players, the importance of the varying geography, the blessing that horse trip wires were obsolete by this time, and the durability of the story structure as an inspiration for westerns in multiple media over the decades. Also included are separate galleries for stills and promotional material including posters, theater displays, and lobby cards.

Reviewed on April 12, 2017.