Remaking A Classic. Briefly On Gordon Douglas’ Stagecoach.

Gordon Douglas’ CinemaScope remake of John Ford’s Stagecoach is a real oddity. Prior to the announcement of the recent reissue of the film I wasn’t actually aware that there was a Stagecoach remake. Very little is written of the movie online, a point exemplified by the fact that I couldn’t even find a promo image showing off William H. Clothier’s impressive Technicolor photography for the above image, and while John Ford’s film is an unequivocal and beloved masterpiece of Hollywood cinema, Douglas’ film is all but forgotten.

The first thing one notices when taking in the 1966 rendition of Stagecoach is the scale of the thing. The film stands at odds with John Ford’s picture, which is itself a notable exercise in economy, with the opening sprawl charting the harsh, extensive landscape within which our tale is about to unfold. The camera eventually settles on the most disturbing of situations, and one which is told in a kind of filmic language more closely tied to the revisionist Westerns of the 1970s than the cinema of Ford. A squad of soldiers are slaughtered in graphic fashion, while in the very next scene two men kill one another in a gruesome brawl. On the one hand, it’s shocking, but it’s also kind of damaging to the production too. It feels unnecessarily overt, almost as if Douglas is trying far too desperately to avoid comparison to the original movie.

Running thirty minutes longer than the Ford picture, Stagecoach 1966 struggles with pacing, with the film ultimately playing out like some kind of weird hybrid of the flighty action movie of the 1939 original and the widescreen epics of the time of the production of the remake. Just as befitting of the time of production are the closing credits, which roll out to the sound of crooner Wayne Newton, a performer with whom I’m familiar with solely due to his cameo appearance in Stephen Kessler’s 1997 film, Vegas Vacation, who here provides a scene-sealing pop song that feels out of place. Also closing out the picture, and far more impressive, are a series of portraits of the film’s cast, as painted by Norman Rockwell.

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