The Highwaymen ride together into the sunset in this update to John Wayne’s classic Western
Do you love the Highwaymen, the country music supergroup made up of several Outlaw legends? Do you love simple, straightforward Westerns? Then this 1986 made for television version of Stagecoach is your movie. Led by music icons Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings as actors this time around, it is a breezy remake of John Ford’s classic Western that made John Wayne a star. Made in the days when television movies were still a respectable entertainment option, it’s a great deal of fun to see these music legends play cowboys and Indians together in a proven formula.
This very Eighties production is a basic update to the original Stagecoach’s plot with its primary attraction being the Highwaymen playing various characters. While all four music icons appeared in various movie roles over their careers as side projects to their long music careers, only Kris Kristofferson could be considered an accomplished actor of the bunch. In fact, Kristofferson’s music career took a backseat at times during his heyday in the Seventies with several major roles in films such as A Star Is Born. He plays the Ringo Kid in Stagecoach, a misunderstood outlaw that crosses paths with the stagecoach as it travels through dangerous Apache territory.
Having released their first album together in 1985 with a #1 hit in Highwayman, someone got the bright idea of branding the Highwaymen as throwbacks to the Western era and it stuck almost immediately, especially to their fans across the country. All four musicians hailed from a genre that became known as Outlaw Country. Their music played outside the rules laid down by Nashville, country music’s establishment for decades.
Music plays less importance in the movie than one would expect…
Music plays less importance in the movie than one would expect…
The Highwaymen’s first music video could practically work as a trailer for Stagecoach, showing them in traditional Western garb on a stagecoach. While no one would confuse Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson or Waylon Jennings as master thespians, the performers had been in front of cameras for decades by the time Stagecoach rolled around. All three give credible performances. Their natural charisma and personality help a great deal, adding a certain charm for example to Cash’s laconic Marshal Curly Wilcox. Producers soon figured out that fans liked seeing these men in Western-themed movies and they all ended up with a string of credits from low-budget Westerns made in the Eighties.
Along for the ride are actors John Schneider (Dukes of Hazzard) and Elizabeth Ashley, among others. Johnny Cash’s fans should look for a cameo by June Carter Cash and their son, John Cash. Music plays less importance in the movie than one would expect, though I suspect licensing issues for television likely made adding their hit songs too expensive. The only actual song performance we get is a theme song for Stagecoach, sung by Willie Nelson in his inimitable style. Country musician David Allan Coe and Willie Nelson are credited with the light instrumental soundtrack, similar in spirit to music first heard on the Highwaymen’s album.
The plot is basic. A motivated stagecoach driver is desperate to get a pregnant woman to her husband in the United States Cavalry. They must cross dangerous Indian territory. Coming along will be several passengers, from Doc Holliday to a cheating gambler named Hatfield. The stagecoach driver ignores a warning about the threat posed by the fearsome Apache Indian Chief Geronimo, putting everyone and the pregnant woman in peril. This is a neat, orderly Western from a simpler time.
Everyone who admires the Highwaymen and their music should see this Stagecoach after watching the original. While this television version doesn’t have the direct power of John Ford’s classic with John Wayne, it’s capable entertainment that plays to each of the Highwaymen’s noted personalities.
The 1986 television movie receives a fine presentation respecting its original broadcast. Presented at 1080P resolution in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, Stagecoach offers moderately crisp clarity with adequate definition. The 95-minute main feature is encoded in AVC with sufficient parameters on a barebones BD-25. It has a solid contrast, average black levels, and better than expected sharpness from an unprocessed film transfer.
Olive Films has licensed Stagecoach from MGM for this release and the television production offers solid, steady cinematography. The level of detail and improvement in color reproduction indicate this is an authentic HD transfer struck from mostly clean film elements. It resembles a slightly older telecine job given the softer interiors with rougher grain structure.
The video offers decent grain reproduction with excellent color saturation. Aside from incidental dirt and debris, the elements are presented in nearly perfect shape. This is a nice, solid print with little wear or noticeable aging. A few darker interiors have been shot with rougher patches of spotty black levels.
While this presentation is fairly standard for catalog fare of the movie’s vintage, it’s great to see in true Blu-ray resolution looking better than ever. No one back in 1986 could watch this entertaining movie at this level of video quality.
The 2.0 stereo mix is heard in a smashing 2.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack. Some jaunty Western instrumentals fill the background as crystal-clear dialogue is heard in perfect clarity. This is modern recording quality with fine staging and impressive dynamics, if a tad limited in sound design. It’s audio made for television, but everything has been smoothly engineered to exacting standards. Stagecoach has its share of better sonic moments with solid bass in a few action scenes.
Optional English SDH subtitles display in a white font.
No special features are included on this Blu-ray release. Olive Films may have set this movie for release since a concert Blu-ray set for the Highwaymen recently came out as well.
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With a nod to the 1939 Stagecoach, the Highwaymen make this 1980s update a memorably fun time.
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