Stagecoach to Lordsburg, Re-Take Three or So

DATELINE: Where’s Bing?

merritt  Merritt Shortly Before his Untimely Death.

 You may think you already saw a great, classic western with John Wayne as Ringo and directed by his mentor and most brilliant collaborator, John Ford.

Actually, you haven’t if you tune into the color, 1986 version that manages to remake the film. Unlike most revisions of the better original, this film is truly a curio, interesting on its own level.

If the first great Western had not been made with Duke Wayne, and you never heard of it, this little film might actually have been an amusing vanity project by well-known performers.

Actually, Stagecoach of 1986 is a television movie and could be better called a Country-Western. Yes, pardner, the stars apparently felt the story held its own without Wayne and Ford. So, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and Willie Nelson, take on the key roles. No, they do not sing. Nelson did the title tune over the credits, but we guess they might have hummed a few notes between takes. That might have been more interesting.

Since singers were the motif, they also brought in Anthony Newley—and Bing Crosby’s daughter, Mary.

The cast is not bad—and you can throw in John Schneider with a perfectly coiffured beard. Anthony Franciosa plays a corrupt banker, and Elizabeth Ashley sounding like a ghetto girl, and even the under-rated Merrit Buttrick as a cavalry officer.

The story has something to do with a stagecoach making a desperate and dangerous trip with Geronimo on the warpath.

Kristofferson takes on the thankless role played by John Wayne as the Ringo Kid. Cash is some kind of marshall, and Willie Nelson is Doc Holliday.

These guys are pros—and their fans will hoot and love every scene, but we kept thinking: wait a second, wasn’t there another remake—with Bing Crosby??? It also starred Ann-Margaret, Mike Connors, Red Buttons, Van Heflin, Robert Cummings, Keenan Wynn, and Slim Pickens.

We don’t think Bing was the Duke, but we had to go to IMDb as our memory banks are corrupt lately. And, yes, there was such a film in 1966—made with old TV stars in the key roles! It is not generally available, but we will search hither and yon to find it.

 

Johnny Cash Meets Nixon

DATELINE: Man in Black & Man with Black Heart

cash on the house

Likely inspired by the various documentaries and movies about Nixon and Elvis, there was in 1970 another significant meeting between Richard Nixon and a music star. Conservative, religious, patriotic Johnny Cash, sometime rebel, was invited to the White House to give a command performance.

A short documentary telegraphs its feelings with the title:  Tricky Dick & The Man in Black. Though the film gives some balance, it is primarily told through the Cash perspective with intensive interviews with Johnny’s son and sister.

Nixon was not a fan of country-western music as his taste ran more to pop classics, like Richard Rogers’ Victory at Sea music, or the show tunes from South Pacific. However, those handlers in the White House felt besieged by youthful protests against the war in Vietnam.

Nixon’s advisors—Haldeman, Pat Buchanan, primarily—felt they needed a antidote to the protests and drug users of Haight-Ashbury. Cash was their man. When he noted on his TV show that he wanted peace with honor in Vietnam, it won him an invitation to perform in the East Room of the White House in April of 1970.

Alas, Nixon’s men did not do their homework. Johnny Cash was not only an advocate for prison reform, but he had created a music album on behalf of Native Americans and visited Wounded Knee.

When the Nixon White House asked him to sing “Welfare Cadillac” to appeal to the redneck supporters, Cash was taken aback. It was not his song or his style. No one told him what to perform. And, he had just returned from visiting soldiers in Vietnam, turning him into a dove with claws (in his own words).

The performance made Nixon uncomfortable, as Cash made him passive-aggressive points. Two weeks later came the college massacres at Kent State, and only then did Cash release his famous song, “Man in Black.”

A highly worthy insight into Johnny Cash, it may surprise many non-fans.

Johnny Cash: Up Close with His Manager

DATELINE:  Country Star Revealed

man in black  Director Holiff with Johnny Cash

In the first ten minutes of this documentary, with its realistic reenactments, you might think you are watching some outrageous fiction. But, it’s all true. You are about to enter the world of My Father and The Man in Black.

Saul Holiff was Johnny’s manager for nearly 15 years, through some of the worst moments of his addictions, black-outs, and temperamental snits.

Holiff alienated many people with his brash character, but he loved being in show biz, even on the outskirts. His business ties to Cash, like all personal management ties, were tenuous—and inevitably broke.

Yet, his son Jonathan never knew his father. He left home as soon as he could at age 18—and they almost never spoke. When his father committed suicide in 2005, he left no note.

But Jonathan’s mother said he left something else: boxes of audio diaries of his relationships with Cash and his sons. And herein lies a tale both shocking and fascinating.

Writing, directing, and producing this “tribute” to his misunderstood father seems an extraordinary feat by Holiff.

Even as a child, he often thought Cash was his father because every sentence spoken in front of him always contained father and Johnny Cash. They were inseparable. Saul introduced June to Johnny.

Cash wanted to overcome his drug-addled past and prison persona for being born-again. He became as addicted to Jesus as he was to pills.  He even made a religious film in the Holy Land, but it was cruel to ask his long-time manager, Jewish atheist Saul to play Caiaphas in one scene.

The break between them was not long after.

Using careful crafted re-enactments and voice imitators to read Johnny’s letters to Saul, this documentary seems to have melted into oblivion when it demands to be seen. Don’t miss it.