Tuesday, April 7, 2015
The War Wagon (1967)
I won't go on the warpath praising the virtues of The War Wagon.
This 1967 western from director Burt Kennedy has its moments, but its so-so entertainment at best. For movie fans itching for a western fix, there are much better choices reviewed on this site including My Darling Clementine and The Searchers.
Taw Jackson (John Wayne) is out of prison after three years. Gold baron Mr. Pierce (Bruce Cabot) has taken over Jackson's ranch and the gold on his land. Pierce is also eager to finish Jackson off for good, offering sharp shooter Lomax (Kirk Douglas) a handsome payday if he kills off Jackson.
Jackson isn't planning on dying. He's scheming to rob Pierce's armoured wagon, filled with gold but also protected by a couple of dozen armed men and a rapid firing Gatling gun. Jackson wants Lomax on his team, a small group dedicated to getting the gold for a rich payoff. How big? $500,000. That sure seems like an awful lot of money by 19th century standards.
There's no real tension between Jackson and Lomax, wondering if one will cross the other for more money. That's a missed opportunity to give this film some spark. Instead, they trade the occasional barb and witty lines.
Example: Jackson and Lomax shoot two men who tried to kill them.
Lomax: "Mine hit the ground first."
Jackson: "Mine was taller."
The War Wagon also waits too much time setting up Jackson and Lomax with another member of the team, Levi Walking Bear (Howard Keel!). A group of men take target practice on glass bottles perches on a rock above Walking Bear's head. Again, there's no suggestion he could be killed. Might he not get cut by broken glass flying around? Apparently not. His rescue goes on, and on, and on some more. Yawn.
Add in a young explosives expert, with a taste for heavy alcohol consumption, Billy Hyatt (Robert Walker, Jr.), and an old coot with a young lady as his companion, Wes Fletcher (Keenan Wynn), and the gang is formed.
The actual heist has its moments, including an impressive explosion of a bridge. There's also a nice nod to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre with what happens with the gold Jackson and his crew so desperately want.
Kennedy sets up some very sharp looking scenes. The Mexican countryside is beautiful. But The War Wagon often shoots blanks.
FUN FACTS: Film's production notes are an interesting read. The War Wagon marked Wayne's 162nd movie. Douglas and Wayne filmed advertisements for, and against, Ronald Reagan's bid to become governor of California. Keenan Wynn snagged Leslie Howard's Confederate hat used in Gone with the Wind and wore said headpiece in all his movies.
Director Kennedy, who died in 2001, went on to direct Support Your Local Sheriff! and Support Your Local Gunfighter! with James Garner.
That's Ed Ames singing Ballad of the War Wagon.
Labels: bruce dern, ed ames, howard keel, joanna barnes, john wayne, jr. keenan wynn, kirk douglas, robert walker, valora noland
Reel Popcorn Junkie is a reporter with a newspaper in the province of Ontario in Canada. He began writing film reviews when he was a student at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont. Reel Popcorn Junkie continues to write entertainment copy for a daily newspaper, but not film reviews. Reel Popcorn Junkie always orders a regular popcorn, with no butter, when he attends the cinema.