Stagecoach (1966)

 

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STAGECOACH —the 1966 re-makers of the venerated old classic really set themselves up for a dunking with this nacho, and only the cameraman and a few of the actors come out dry. The setting has been changed from the Arizona desert to the mountains of Colorado, but apart from the scenery the basic plot line is the same.

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No cigar.

Director Gordon Douglas helmed some good action flix (as well as a slew of turkeys)*, but any way you cut it, he’s no threat to John Ford, and Joseph Landon’s script, despite it’s updating with blood and sex, seems more dated than the one Dudley Nichols wrote 27 years earlier.

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What’s wrong with this picture? Everything.

Douglas stages furious, bloody action, but it’s so extended and absurd it’s laughable. The pursuing Indians in this movie are among the most mindless targets outside of a zombie flick. Apparently horses never get tired from galloping at full tilt for miles on end, and the passengers never miss a shot while jolting over rocky terrain. Some of the action, especially at the start and finish is also, in vogue with the 60s, gratuitously brutal.

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Pray for Van to strike Red with something blunt

The casting delivers the kill shot. Did anyone think Alex Cord could shade John Wayne? The answer to that,of course, is “Who is Alex Cord?” Ann-Margret is all wrong, as is Mike Connors, and Red Buttons is infuriating. Stephanie Powers and Bob Cummings are neck & neck as next-in-line nerds.

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Yes, something does smell

Van Heflin, Slim Pickens and Keenan Wynn are okay, as you’d hope and expect. The most persuasive groove is cut by Bing Crosby as the drunken doctor, but his valiant effort can’t prop up the 115 minutes of fakeness. Jerry Goldsmith’s score is lackluster.

Best feature by far is the superb cinematography of beautiful Colorado scenic locations by William H. Clothier; you can almost smell the trees. Costing $3,500,000, it limped out of town with $6,000,000. Oh, and Wayne Newton sings a song “Stagecoach To Cheyenne”. I can’t improve upon the comment made in The Motion Picture Guide–“it’s the kind of song one dislikes upon first hearing and hates upon the second”.

* Douglas’ output varied throughout his career. Among his flock, he did by my count 14 westerns, including the pleasurable Rio Conchos, Yellowstone Kelly and Fort Dobbs and the gawd-awful Chuka. His best work came before 1965; after Rio Conchos, he seemed content to phone it in.

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