There’s no point starting here with a big negative by pointing out this is a variation/remake of the 1939 John Ford/John Wayne classic. Let’s be positive and say it’s an enjoyable telefilm that featured four iconic singers who had found a renewed interest in their music after teaming up together to form the outlaw country group, The Highwaymen. I refer to “The Hoss” Waylon Jennings, “The Man in Black” Johnny Cash, “The Red Headed Stranger” Willie Nelson, and “The Silver Tongued Devil” Kris Kristofferson.
If you know the sound of a Willie Nelson guitar lick then you’ll know who it is playing on the soundtrack just as the film opens up with a stagecoach on a tear through Apache territory. You’ll also be quick to notice the stage driver under a heavy unkept beard is one of the Dukes of Hazzard and part time country singer himself, John Schneider.
The coach makes it safely to the next town where Johnny Cash is the sheriff. Schneider is gearing up for the next leg of the journey and needs a shotgun rider to tag along. Cash signs up to take the job while passengers holding tickets consist of Anthony Newley’s whiskey salesman, Elizabeth Ashley as the fallen Dallas, Mary Crosby as a pregnant woman going west to join her husband and Waylon Jennings as a gambler who owes Mrs. Crosby’s husband a debt of gratitude and will see that she safely makes it to the end of her journey. Also joining the group is none other than western legend Doc Holiday as played by the ever charming Willie Nelson himself.
Just as the stage pulls out, banker Anthony Franciosa, catches a ride with a bag full of money in hand after embezzling the banks funds and fleeing from his gold digging mistress played by a beautiful woman any self respecting Waylon Jennings fan should recognize, Jessi Colter. Aka Mrs. Waylon Jennings. Word is out that the Ringo Kid is on the loose after breaking out of prison which has Cash on the lookout for Kris Kristofferson taking up the Duke’s character. On foot in Apache territory with Geronimo on the warpath leads Kris to flag down the Stage and place himself under arrest to Cash. For the time being anyway.
It’s a good thing there’s a Doctor on board the coach even if he is only a gunfighting dentist. One of the more amusing scenes in the film features Willie as the baby delivering Doc Holiday who has to be told by the patient to put out his cigar. Still to come is a showdown with marauding Indians and a gunfight that will see Kris meet his enemies with Johnny’s blessing and Waylon and Willie backing him up. As it’s all done for television, this isn’t what we’d call a violent western as the genre had become in the 1970’s. It’s rather tame and with the leading foursome it’s really just a bunch of pals getting together to film a movie in between concerts. So don’t be surprised if June Carter Cash turns up briefly as well at a station line stop where the coach can switch horses. A keen observer might also notice country music renegade, David Allan Coe, as one of the outlaws in the final stanza.
My favorite line in the movie comes from Waylon’s gambler as he walks out of a card game with most of the cash, “I’m a gambler. I play for money and I don’t give it back.” One look from an hombre who looks like Ol’ Waylon is enough to convince any hot tempered cowboy to back down.
Anthony Franciosa would still act for a number of years in film and television but his glory years and leading man era had really passed by the end of the sixties though he did have a leading role in the effective Dario Argento thriller Tenebre in 1982. Stagecoach was directed by Ted Post who had numerous TV credits to his name as well as big screen fare like Hang’Em High, Beneath the Planet of the Apes and the superior Go Tell the Spartans.
For more on the Highwayman and their film careers as well as yours truly attempting to cover a Waylon and Willie classic, just click here to catch a live take I recorded a couple years back.