Directed by: Gordon Douglas
I want to argue that this remake should be remade. ‘Stagecoach’ is a remake of the wonderful 1939 John Ford original. After watching the ’66 version I couldn’t help but think – “Imagine if Tarantino or the Coen Brothers got hold of this. Turned out something like ‘Django Unchained’ or ‘True Grit’. The source material is all there, the quirky characters, heinous villains and a whole heap of remorseless Wild West violence. There’s something about ‘Stagecoach’ which if adapted again could provide the unrepentant violence featured in Cormac McCarthy’s ‘Blood Meridian’ with this allegory of the need for coexistence and diplomacy in the face of adversity. The story is golden in a world divided and on the brink of oblivion.
In terms of the views of Western purists, not many people have time for the ’66 version of ‘Stagecoach’. I suppose it is because John Ford is one of the master creators of the genre. Tampering with his work is sacrilegious. The story of ‘Stagecoach’ is all about a bunch of passengers who have no choice but to travel to Cheyenne. Bing Crosby plays a drunk doctor, Ann-Margret the banished showgirl, there’s a stern Marshal, a goofy stagecoach driver and a falsely accused outlaw called the Ringo Kid.
The film’s most gripping action packed scene is when hundreds of Native Americans chase the rickety stagecoach through woodland and the prairies. The chase is brilliantly action packed, as Indians leap from horses onto the stagecoach. Bullets and arrows fly, then disaster strikes and the wagon loses a wheel. A horse is slain. The motley band of misfit travellers must fight for their lives.
Then there’s the final showdown, a stripped back version of Django’s final fight in Candie’s Ranch as the Ringo Kid goes into enemy territory facing off against the horrid Plummer brothers. It’s no less exciting, as a fire rages through the saloon Ringo looks for revenge.
I was surprised by Bill Crosby’ acting; my abiding image of the man is of a dopey, sad sack crooner. In ‘Stage Coach’ he provides the light relief. Crosby spends most of the time sipping bourbon on the sidelines, stepping in with a wisecrack when required. He’s part of an ensemble cast that work well together. There’s no star name, unlike the magnetism of the young John Wayne in the original, Alex Cord’s Ringo Kid is quite literally shackled. The film relies on the sum of its parts, rolling on through the wilderness.