Stagecoach (1966)

poster_of_the_movie_stagecoachOh, no. Here we are again. The unnecessary….remake!!! Considered by most to be one of the best westerns ever made, 1939’s Stagecoach is a key film that helped lay out a foundation for a whole type of western, not to mention helping skyrocket John Wayne to stardom. It’s one of those movies that doesn’t really need to be remade, retouched, reboot and re-anything. There just isn’t much to improve on. That said, Hollywood seems to take that as a challenge. A TV remake was released in 1986, but that’s looking ahead too much. Today’s flick is 1966’s Stagecoach.

In the town of Dry Rock, several undesirables are being booted out of town for different reasons, including Dallas (Ann-Margret), a dance hall girl, and Doc Boone (Bing Crosby), an alcoholic doctor with some debts. Sioux warriors have been reported on the warpath — including a massacre of a small company of cavalry fixing the telegraph line — so travel isn’t encouraged, but Dallas, Doc Boone and several other passengers desperately need to get up the trail to Cheyenne. Hoping to thread the needle, eight desperate people board a stagecoach. They’re in for a surprise on the trail, meeting the Ringo Kid (Alex Cord), an escaped convict looking for revenge. Ringo has his reasons though, and another gun on-board couldn’t hurt. Can the coach make it through unscathed?

So let’s get this out of the way. There’s no need to remake the original Stagecoach. Can you tweak some things? Update story devices to be more current, more modern? Throw an interesting ensemble together? Sure to all three questions. But do you need to? No, not really. From director Gordon Douglas, this 1966 version is a pretty decent movie. The cast is solid, the filming locations gorgeous, and the story itself works. There’s a reason the basic premise worked so well in the original. We’re talking life and death in the wild west. It’s hard to mess that up. This remake is good because the script/story is good, and little else. It will feel familiar and comfortable but not necessary in the least.

The biggest changes? The story breathes a little bit more, clocking in at 115 minutes to the original’s 99 minutes. The additional 16 minutes doesn’t add much unfortunately. More talking, more repetitive scenes, but not much more character development. Dallas’ personal life is explored more and more obviously — she’s a GASP prostitute! — and we actually meet the evil Plummers here which is a positive. Filmed on location in Colorado, the visual appeal is evident with snow and tree-capped mountains filling in for the dusty desert and massive rock formations. As well, composer Jerry Goldsmith‘s score is good, a precursor to his score two years later with 1968’s Bandolero! Some positives, some negatives, a mixed bag of changes.

An ensemble cast with a story full of misfits and flawed characters is a gimme. The cast is what pulled me in here more than the story. Like I said, how much can you change? Some good star power though here for sure. Ann-Margret is a more mean-spirited, angry Dallas. Cord is okay but not flashy as Ringo. John Wayne’s original entrance is an all-timer, but here, it’s an afterthought. The chemistry feels a tad forced between Margret and Cord even though the love between two outsiders should have been a gimme. The high point is Crosby as the hard-drinking, fun-loving, accepting life as it is Doc Boone. Steals the show with a fun performance.

Who else to look for on our stagecoach? The always reliable Van Heflin plays Curly, the marshal riding shotgun on the coach while keeping an eye on Ringo. It’s not a flashy part but Heflin is a pro and fits in nicely. Slim Pickens plays Slim Pickens, um, Buck, the worrisome coach driver and has some good chemistry with Heflin. Also look for Stefanie Powers as Lucy Mallory, a young pregnant wife on the way to meeting her husband, Red Buttons as Peacock, a whiskey drummer, Mike Connors as Hatfield, a gentleman gambler looking out for Lucy, and Robert Cummings as Gatewood, a robbing banker. Also look for Keenan Wynn as Luke Plummer, a killer and an outlaw who crossed Ringo and his family in the past.

Things are pretty slow for the first hour as everyone is introduced and things are laid out. The highlight of the film though is the Sioux attack on the stagecoach in the last 45 minutes. It’s an underrated action gem. Some great stunt work, even cooler camera angles and shots (thinking some helicopters were used of some sort) and a whole lot of carnage. I think Ringo, Curly and Co. may have wiped out half the Sioux nation in the process. A final showdown between Ringo and the Plummers is also expanded where in the original, the entire gunfight happened off-screen. A little slow early, but the action late is worth it.

Flawed but entertaining in the end. Still stick with the John Ford original from 1939, but western fans will get a kick out of this 1966 remake. Also worth sticking around in the credits as famous American painter Norman Rockwell painted portraits of the 10 main cast members. They look great and are a cool, unique addition to the credit sequence.

Stagecoach (1966): ** 1/2 /****

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3:10 to Yuma (1957)

310_to_yuma_281957_film29My love of westerns typically goes down two paths; toward John Wayne movies and spaghetti westerns. The gap then in a genre that I proudly call my favorite? The 1950s, a hit or miss decade for westerns. When they’re good though, they’re real good. It’s been years since I watched today’s entry, a genuine classic from 1957, 3:10 to Yuma.

In the Arizona territory in the 1880s, Dan Evans (Van Heflin) and Ben Wade (Glenn Ford) are two very different men who find themselves on a similar path. Evans is a small rancher who could potentially lose his ranch during a drought. Wade is an infamous outlaw at the head of a gang known throughout the territory. Wade has pushed his luck though and has been captured in the town of Bisbee. The problem? No one wants to risk their life to transport Wade to prison and risk incurring the wrath of the outlaw’s gang. Desperately needing money, Evans takes on the task for $200 upon delivery. Can the rancher pull it off and get Wade to prison? Will the gang get to him first? A train awaits in Contention where all roads converge.

What an excellent movie. From director Delmer Daves and based off a short story from Elmore Leonard, ‘3:10’ is a gem. Filmed in black and white and clocking in at just 92 minutes, this is an adult western. There is little to no gunplay other than a few shots here and there. Instead, this is a western about mood, intensity and a story that is always moving but almost in a lyrical way and never in a rush. Helping drive the story along is a very solid score from George Duning and a memorable theme — listen HERE — that you’ll be humming along with for days. A whole bunch of positives going on.

So little gunplay and a story built on dialogue and…yeah, just dialogue and intensity. That movie better have some damn good performances, and ‘3:10’ has two great performances to lead the way. Heflin and Ford are two of the more underrated actors of their era, and both deliver one of their career-best parts. I don’t know if Ford has ever been better. An actor who typically played a stout, resolute good guy looks to be having a ball playing the bad guy. He’s vicious, bottom-line, highly intelligent and manipulative. The most impressive thing is that this isn’t a ‘hey, look at me!’ performance. Ford is subtle and underplays the part and steals the movie in the process.

Heflin is equally as good as the other side of the coin, the rancher who’s always done things the right way, how he’s supposed to…and what has it gotten him? A struggling ranch he may lose, putting his wife and two sons out in the process. In Wade, he sees multiple opportunities for some much-needed $, some more legit and some illegal. It is a great part as you see Ford’s manipulation makes its impact as Heflin’s Evans starts to question what exactly he should do. Should he do the right thing? There is a straightforward elegance to this relationship, to the story and the execution.This movie succeeds. The last 45 minutes are mostly 2 men talking — an epic cat-and-mouse game — in a hotel room, and it works in effortless fashion.

Not a huge supporting cast on display here, but it’s a good cast. Felicia Farr plays Emmy, a saloon girl who Wade meets and may know from his past. Kinda risque stuff as we see them interact too, especially for a 1957 western (but it is fairly subtle). Leora Dana is solid as Dan’s wife who is a worrier but most of all, purely loves her husband. Robert Emhardt plays Butterfield, the owner of the oft-robbed stage line, while Henry Jones plays Alex Potter, the town drunk who steps up when needed. And last but not least, Richard Jaeckel is memorable in an underused part as Charlie Prince, Wade’s loyal right-hand man and a bit of an unhinged gunslinger.

A lot of fun to catch up with his 1957 western. Not always mentioned as an all-time classic, but it deserves its reputation. It’s so good at building tension and mood and intensity that ‘3:10’ is a movie that is actually nerve-wracking and uncomfortable to watch at times. Ford and Heflin carry the load with a strong supporting cast chipping in. The finale? Light on gunplay but high on intensity with a chase — not a gunfight — wrapping things up. Highly recommended. Also worth watching, the 2007 remake starring Christian Bale as Evans, Russell Crowe as Wade and Ben Foster as Charlie.

3:10 to Yuma (1957): *** 1/2 /****