THE WAR WAGON—-well-liked 1967 western is fast, snappy and played tongue in cheek. Under Burt Kennedy’s zesty direction*, the amiable tone of Clair Huffaker’s script meshes well with the mock-serious and saddle comfortable playing of John Wayne and Kirk Douglas, neatly crafting the banter in an essentially trivial entertainment. Life Magazine’s comment on the 60-year old Wayne in this outing: “…kind of a natural phenomenon, rather like a spectacular geological remnant of a vanished age…”.
Out on parole after a frame-up, Wayne (his characters first name is ‘Taw’) wants his stolen ranch back from ruthless Bruce Cabot, who’s hired fast gun Douglas to make sure the wrongful hands keep control. Duke & Dimple decide to team up on the bad guys when it’s revealed that Cabot’s stage carries gold taken from Wayne’s purloined property. Trouble is the title coach is armor plated and topped with a revolving turret housing a Gatling gun. That requires a plan and a team that comes in for a cut: a canny Kiowa named ‘Levi Walking Bear’ (Howard Keel), a boozy nitro expert (Robert Walker Jr.) and a foul tempered ogre (Keenan Wynn) with his miserable chattel bride (Valora Noland).
Expansive Mexican scenery around Durango, another pulse-quickening score from Dimitri Tiomkin and lots of shootin’. Sophisticates may sneer (who gives a damn?) but genre fans know they’re in an okay corral when Wayne and Douglas drop a pair of gunmen and casually spar: DOUGLAS: “Mine hit the ground first.” WAYNE: “Mine was taller.”
96 minutes, with Joanna Barnes, Bruce Dern, Gene Evans, Terry Wilson, John Collier, Sheb Wooley, Emilio Fernandez, Frank McGrath, Chuck Roberson and Hal Needham. Tabbing $4,200,000 to get out to the masses, it tipped $10,700,000.
*Well, Kennedy directed as much as Wayne let him anyway, since at this point in his career the star pretty much rode over most newer directors he encountered, and took a keen, sometimes vexing interest in every aspect of the job.