We now resume your regularly scheduled blog postings, already in progress...
As previously mentioned, this movie is pure bottled fun. (Not that you should take my word for it.) But like a lot of old Westerns, it never got the design it deserved. Especially when they get to DVD, so many classic Westerns just get the "big John Wayne in a cowboy hat headshot" treatment, to the point where I don't know how you'd tell Stagecoach from The Searchers. So I really wanted to try to find a new angle on film westerns, something other than the aged sepia-toned thing that you see so often. I liked the "western noir" approach I worked out for The Furies, but that wasn't appropriate for a film this light... and besides, I'd already done that!
Unfortunately, there wasn't a whole lot to work with, in terms of photography. In fact, I didn't even have much in the way of big John Wayne headshots! (Mainly because John Wayne wasn't even the marquee name for this film at the time of its release--Claire Trevor got top billing.) I tried a few photo based treatments that were pretty bad--most of them bad enough that I never even hit "save" on the files, so I can't show them here. The least egregious of the bunch is below. The execution is still pretty rough, the tattered black border in particular, but I did like this photo of the whole cast in and around the stagecoach--it is really an ensemble picture, so that did seem to capture something of the film.
Then there was this version, which uses the original title treatment from the film. notice how quickly I fell back into bad sepia-toning! The rest of it, meh... but the title treatment, at least, was a good idea.
At this point I got stuck, and started flailing around for inspiration. What else says "western"? I thought about Hatch Show Print, the great Nashville printers, and thought that might be an interesting avenue to pursue. So, looking at stuff like this:
...I came up with this:
Better, but too Warhol for no reason. (Plus, the saddle doesn't look nearly as good repeated as the guitar.) I wasn't looking to enshrine the film as a kitsch artifact, I wanted to emphasize the upbeat fun in a way that was appropriate to the period but also felt modern and cool. Then I remembered some great prints that Josh Cochran (who you may remember from Wise Blood) showed me, which evoked old tin toy packaging, screen printing, and just plain looked great. And how about those colors!
So that sparked some ideas, about how to use negative space and color. I had one still of the most exciting moment in the film, a great stunt scene from the climax where John Wayne's character (but really the great stuntman Yakima Canutt--check out the doc on him on the disc!) jumps from horse to horse to regain control of the reigns. Awesome stuff, and totally gets at the popcorn fun of this movie. I added some layers of color and texture inspired by Josh's drawings, and came up with this, which I was immediately happy with:
I did a version with a big John Wayne head floating in the sky, just in case anyone was worried about not including him on the cover:
...but it just immediately brought it back to discount twelve-John-Wayne-movies-for-ten-dollars territory. Better to let the concept stand... and luckily everyone agreed! It took a few lousy covers to get there, but at the end of the day, this is one of my favorite covers in a long while. I hope you all like it, too!