THE TRAIN ROBBERS —-after the success of Big Jake and The Cowboys, the late-career John Wayne Movies slipped both in quality and box-office. Directed by Burt Kennedy, this pocket-vest ramble from 1973 only nudged spot #39 for the year (Duke’s other ’73 effort, Cahill U.S. Marshal, managed ten placements better), but it’s an attractive, unprepossessing little actioner, gifted with a solid cast. For sure, it looks great, thanks to western cinematographer par excellence William H. Clothier, in the last of 21 collaborations with Wayne *
“You’re a man, you’re stuck with it. You’ll find yourself standing your ground and fightin’ when you oughtta run, speakin’ out when you oughtta keep your mouth shut, doin’ things that seem wrong to a lot of people but you’ll do them all the same. You’re gonna spend the rest of your life getting’ up one more time when you’re knocked down, so you better start gettin’ used to it.”
Written & directed by saddle veteran Burt Kennedy, the simple storyline is matinee- serviceable, quickly forgettable tosh involving various parties with mixed motives after some stolen gold. Kennedy’s directorial gigs ranged from good (The War Wagon, Support Your Local Sheriff ) to terrible (Hannie Caulder, 13 Days To Glory): this outing is in the cleaner end of the corral. His writing was also split between tight and tripe; here it’s less effective than his direction. Wayne biographer Scott Eyman notes “as with Big Jake, there’s an unpleasant atmosphere of enforced hero worship—the other characters are always admiring Wayne’s character, as if the star was feeling insecure.”
The real pleasures are in the visuals, with cameraman Clothier getting lovely captures of ruggedly beautiful Mexico, around Durango, on numerous picturesque locations about Sonora, and in Sierra de Órganos National Park in Zacatecas. Albert Whitlock designed some outstanding matte paintings, and basically created a grade-A lightning storm.
Acceptable generic western landscape theme music from Dominic Frontiere, punchy sound effects and capable stunt work in the energetic gun battles pitch in to move things along a smooth old-style track.
Backing Big John are a game Ann-Margret, 31, in her second western (after the wan 1966 remake of Stagecoach); amiable Rod Taylor (on tap for a Wayne co-star credit since 1964 when he wisely passed on Circus World), saddle-bred bronc buster Ben Johnson, Christopher George (thankfully elevated to Good Guy, in his 4th Duke opus), 60s pop crooner Bobby Vinton and longtime stuntman Jerry Gatlin. Hanging around the edges is a silent, mysterious dandy played by Ricardo Montalban.
Brought in for an economical $4,500,000, it grossed $9,400,000, but with Warner Bros. calculations they needed 2.5 times cost to break even, so it was carried in the red. Efficient 92 minutes will satisfy ardent us Wayne fans, those not so enamored will burn daylight on down the trail.
* William H. Clothier: “I never saw a mountain I wouldn’t climb, if I thought I could make my shot better, or get up on a rooftop, or in an airplane, anything to improve a shot.”
Ann-Margret: “Duke was still a strong, rugged, formidable man, larger-than-life and incredibly personal. He was a big teddy bear, and we got along famously. Duke gave me the confidence I lacked.”