The year is 1880 and Geronimo and his Apaches are on a warpath against the people who have taken their land. Despite the warnings of the local Calvary officers, one stagecoach tries to make the long journey from Arizona to New Mexico. The seven passengers may start out as strangers but they’re going to have to work together to survive the journey. The most famous passenger is dentist-turned-gunslinger Doc Holliday (Willie Nelson). The most infamous is the Ringo Kid (Kris Kristofferson), an outlaw who has recently escaped from prison and who is looking for revenge against the men who framed him for a crime that he didn’t commit. Henry Gatewood (Anthony Fraciosa) is a banker who has embezzled money and is looking to make a quick escape. Foppish Trevor Peacock (Anthony Newley) sells liquor. Dallas (Elizabeth Ashley) is a former prostitute looking to start a new life. Mrs. Mallory (Mary Crosby) is nine months pregnant and traveling to reunite with her husband, an officer in the Calvary. Finally, Hatfield (Waylon Jennings) is a chivalrous gambler. Riding atop the stagecoach is Buck (John Schneider), who gets paid 8 dollars a month to risk his life taking people through Apache country, and Curly (Johnny Cash), the tough-but-fair town marshal who plans to arrest the Ringo Kid as soon as they reach civilization.
Made for television, Stagecoch is an adequate remake of the John Ford classic. The story remains basically the same, with the main difference being that the majority of the characters are now played by country-western singers who are a few years too old for their roles. Doc Holliday, who died of “consumption” when he was in his 30s, is played by Willie Nelson, who doesn’t look a day under 70. The Ringo Kid is played by Kris Kristofferson, who, despite having literally played Billy the Kid a decade earlier, still doesn’t look like he’s ever been called a “kid” at any point in his life. Compared to their original counterparts, the remake’s characters have been slightly tweaked so that they fit with the outlaw country images of the singers playing them. Doc Holliday sympathizes with Geronimo and says that his use of whiskey is “medicinal.” Kristofferson’s Ringo Kid is more openly contemptuous of authority than John Wayne’s. Waylon Jennings is less of a cynic in the role of Hatfield than John Carradine was and Johnny Cash sits atop the stagecoach like a man on a holy mission.
The cast is the main reason to watch this version of Stagecoach. The film can’t match the original but Nelson, Kristofferson, Jennings, and Cash obviously enjoyed playing opposite each other and, even if Nelson and Kristofferson are miscast, all of them bring some needed country-western authenticity to their roles. As for the non-singers, Mary Crosby, Elizabeth Ashley, and John Schneider all make the best impressions while both Franciosa and Newley seem too 20th Century for their western roles. Director Ted Post does a good job with the action scenes and keeps the story moving, even if the remake’s status as a TV production keeps him from capturing visual grandeur of Ford’s original. Stagecoach is a respectful remake of a classic, one that can be appreciated when western fans on its own merits.