My complimentary copy of the Criterion Collection edition of STAGECOACH is en route. Those of you wishing to experience this movie in the lovingly restored form it deserves, may pre-order it on BluRay or standard DVD from the links below, and as a bonus you’ll get an essay by myself, entitled Taking the Stage.

Criterion Collection: Stagecoach (Ws B&W) [Blu-ray] [1939] [US Import]

Stagecoach (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

Stagecoach (The Criterion Collection)

I am of course thrilled to be associated with Criterion in this way — it’s like being invited to dance in front of Miles Malleson or bake a cake for Skelton Knaggs — it doesn’t get any better than this!

32 Responses to “Whoah!”

  1. Nice. I presume you have a US Blu-ray player or have they started making multi-regions yet? I was under the impression all Criterions were locked for the US market only.

  2. Some Criterion discs are region-free, I think: Nanook seems to be. I’m getting a standard DVD of Stagecoach alas because I don’t own any kind of BluRay yet. Still trying to decide whether to spend my recent wages on a new TV and a BluRay…

  3. Good to know. Not seen enough classics to say for sure, but North by Northwest is astonishing on Blu-ray.

  4. A Peacock Says:

    Criterion originally began releasing all their films region free, but for the past 3 or 4 years everything is region locked to 1 or A for Blu. I think this is so they are able to sell their transfers to other regions also it helps with bargaining with the big rights holders like Toho who want to sell to as many places as possible.

    Nick – You can get remote hackable blu ray players in both the UK and US (the Momitsu clone) , I picked mine up for £50 in HMV.

    I’m looking forward to this release a lot David, I hope you get to contribute to the QUIET MAN release when it finally comes!

  5. I’m not sure I’d be right for The Quiet Man. Stagecoach is already a slight stretch in some ways, but it’s a great film and I wanted to rise to the occasion if at all possible. But it feels like there’d be better people to do The Quiet Man. Not that I’ve been offered it!

    My current project, which is for a UK company, is very hush-hush.

  6. Forgot to add in my first post- Congratulations!!

  7. Congrats!

    Stagecoah is in many was pure movie. The characters, the set-ups, the pay-offs are all laid out simply, directly and keyed for maximum impact.

    Plus it’s why John Wayne’s a star.

  8. Absolutely. All those elements are kind of laid out around him to focus our attention on his role.

  9. Welles famously noted that in preparation for making Citizen Kane he screened Stagecoah many many times. Naturally they’re quite different films, but it’s easy to see what Welles was driving at in terms of learning “the basics” from John Ford.

  10. There are a few Wellesian low angles and deep focus moments in the movie but yes, I think mainly what he got out of it was studying an effective film and seeing how it presented its effects. It does embrace its “movie-ness” wholeheartedly, in a way that Welles is less inclined to do.

  11. Christopher Says:

    I thought MASTERS OF CINEMA was the CRITERION of the UK?…I have the MASTERS version of Kwaidan,it may be region free,I don’t know for sure since my player is hacked to play anything and everything..
    Looking forward to your remarks on Stagecoach and seeing the film get the grand Criterion treatment,its most worthy!

  12. Randy Cook Says:

    I think Welles absorbed a hell of a lot from this film, not all of it about directing. I suspect he was keenly interested in acting before the camera; I recall a few Thomas Mitchell closeups which Welles seemed to have subjected to particular scrutiny.

  13. Enormous congratulations. And on a Criterion Collection too! You’d be forgiven for the sin of pride on this one. Have you had a quote on a poster or book yet (“Hot Tub-tastic!”)?

  14. No, I’m still a blurb virgin.

    I’ve done a bit of writing for Masters of Cinema too, feels really good to be working with both companies. I think MoC discs are multi-region. A serious film fan needs to go multi-region if at all possible, since both companies publish essential stuff with only a little overlap.

    I like the idea of Welles studying the acting in Stagecoach, and Mitchell does seem quite a Wellesian actor.

  15. You must be sittin’ tall in the saddle.

  16. And I agree, any serious film fan owes it to him/herself to go multi-region.

  17. “You must be sittin’ tall in the saddle.”

    “That’s ’cause I’m on a horse.”

    Copyright Spike Milligan.

    They’ve made it harder to get multiregion players in the US, it seems. Most of them here don’t even need hacking.

  18. Nicely done! Faintly envious! But not too much, a well-deserved appointment.

  19. mmedin Says:

    Many US players are not very hard to “hack”. Hard to call entering a 5-digit code hacking. It’s more like an Easter egg (computer term, not holiday) that you only want to see once. You do it, it’s done, and you never think about it again (until your player gives out).

    Ah, maybe someday we will lose you here as you turn celebrootie (parody of Ben Bernie, from an old Warner ‘toon everyone here probably knows. Yowza.)

  20. Well, at least you can say “I knew him when…”

    Very excited about my latest writing gig but I can say no more.

  21. Arthur S. Says:

    Terrific title to the piece, that’s all I can say.

    The Criterion Collection has transformed from a DVD label into a wing of the Film Restoration movement and an archive of terrific film criticism.

  22. My editor likes the title too. It’s what you hope for, something that just pops out of your head and sticks to the piece. When that happens, you may or may not have a good title, but at least you stop worrying about it!

    Of course, you’re thanked in the piece for your help Arthur. Not the last time your name will appear in a Criterion booklet, I suspect.

  23. david wingrove Says:

    If anyone can convince me that STAGECOACH is a film worth watching – David, it’s probably you! Saw it years ago and found it an odious (and rather dull) piece of right-wing propaganda…was simply praying for the Native Americans to swoop down out of the hills and massacre the entire cast. But surely scalping is too good for John Wayne?!

  24. Philosophically it’s quite an erratic piece, with conservative and liberal sentiments jostling for position. Ford was still pretty progressive when he made it. The Indians are more plot function than anything else, less nuanced than in Ford’s later films. But that’s not so much propaganda as a simple acceptance of a narrative convention widely used at the time. One can argue that he should have questioned it, and later he did, but I don’t think he’s trying to make an anti-Indian point with it.

    I did make a comparison to Birth of a Nation, but then I kind of watered it down.

    The film’s skeptical attitude to “civilisation” is pretty interesting, anyhow.

  25. I think I saw, or maybe read, Welles say that one of the values of Stagecoach to him was that it showed you could break all the rules – he refers to the final action sequence where the heroes are going left to right, then right to left (ie we cross the line) but it doesn’t matter, the audience knows what is going on.

    If I’ve remembered that correctly we should definitely keep it to ourselves, because if Michael Bay ever got wind of it, well, you know the rest…

  26. I suspect Bay decided something similar, in his own lamebrained way, a long time ago.

    Welles certainly said he didn’t know about the left-to-right rule when he got on the set of Kane because Ford had broken it so blatantly.

  27. I think I’d decide oxygen isn’t worth breathing before I’d ever feel that “Stagecoach” isn’t “worth watching”. No matter how you feel about its treatment of the Indians–which, as pointed out above, is really neutral, with them serving mainly as a plot device–the damn thing is so lively and funny and beautifully shot that it’s like a Renoir western. One scene that justifies the whole thing for me: when Wayne makes sure Trevor gets some water, too. It’s so well-acted it hurts.

    >But surely scalping is too good for John Wayne?!

    Because of his politics? I’d hate to think which artists deserve torture just because I don’t like their politics–it’d be one helluva long list, and the most recent addition to it would be Hoagy Carmichael.

    Or is it because of Wayne’s acting? I won’t argue that he was as good as, say, Bogart or Cagney. Those were guys who built really layered and complex characterizations, but Wayne was certainly Cary Grant’s equal–men with a limited range, but who could wreak an infinite number of changes within that range. Look how different his work is in Stagecoach, Fort Apache*, They Were Expendable, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Searchers, Rio Bravo, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Nearly all of those movies could be taken for the quintessential Wayne performance, but they’re all different from each other both in rhythm, temper, volume…Check out how relatively small he makes himself in secondary roles or ensemble pieces like Expendable and Fort Apache*, then he does his blowfish thing and totally overwhelms The Searchers and Red River. Plus the guy was so much fun to watch just on a physical level. I love that moment where he explains how the Nayecki Comanche say they’re going one way but move another, and he makes that beautiful rolling gesture with his hands.

    Wayne was great.

    * Not just a great Wayne movie, but whatever sins Ford felt he committed against the Indians, his actual atonement for them came here–not in goddam Cheyenne Autumn.

  28. Agree with the above re. Wayne’s ability. I love The Searchers. I love that its excess is tempered by how comfortable and natural Wayne looks in the frame.

  29. Wayne’s work in Stagecoach is really soulful and sweet, as I’ve tried to argue in my piece. And apparently apart from the politics he was a nice fellow if you knew him. I don’t by any means like all he stood for onscreen, but he managed to put a human face on it. Hmm, maybe that’s not all good. But I think his acting is very good in his Ford and Hawks films — maybe Red River is easiest for me to take because he’s practically the heavy in it… but then he’s so SWEET as Ringo.

  30. I just watched Stagecoach for the first time a few nights ago, and this was the first place I came, to see what David and the commenters had to say. (Now I realize I should have bought the Criterion disc rater than just use Netflix!)

    Some thoughts, in part in response to the above:

    1. A comparison between Wayne in Liberty Valence and Wayne here would be nearly sufficient, on its own, to convince me that he was a very good actor. Those performances couldn’t be more different, and it’s not just because of actual aging–it’s the depiction of aging, and its effect on the spirit, and the difference between being a young man with the world before you and an older one with the world closing in. Good god, his entrance in Stagecoach is a thing of glory.

    2. The politics are jumbled, but for the most part they come down on the left. The Indians are a mover of plot, not real people–which in itself is, I realize, an offense, but it’s one that Ford would at least become aware of later, unlike a lot of people (even today). The specific points he’s making, the ones he actively tries to make, are much more left-leaning: the banker yammers on about how government should get out of his way, how people should just trust bankers and not alway be insisting on inspecting their books . . . yet he demands government protection and cries bloody murder when it’s not forthcoming. Class distinctions are attacked as well, with Wayne crossing the gap between the respectable lady and the fallen woman.

    3. Andy Devine. Oh, how I love Andy Devine. And he looks so, so, so young in this film–despite being in his early 30s already–yet he has that same old man’s voice.

    4. That shot from atop the stagecoach as it fords the river is amazing. It was actually startling: i didn’t expect anything like that shift in perspective or sense of motion, a reminder of how we set our expectations to the period as we watch, without even thinking.

  31. Thanks for your thoughts!

    Clearly, Ford thought Wayne was ready for stardom, but his entrance is designed to help him on his way, clearly. Ford wasn’t known for that kind of camera move.

    Ford seems to have been broadly leftwing before WWII, and obviously more right-leaning later. Although he tried to make up for his depiction of Indians in those later years.

    Curiously, I’m just looking at Pyshka, a Russian version of Boule de Suif. Ford liked to claim that Stagecoach was inspired by that Maupassant story, and there are indeed touches, mostly involving the fallen woman and the other passengers’ attitude. But Ford’s view isn’t as dark as Maupassant’s.

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