THE TRAIN ROBBERS

image

By the time John Wayne made The Train Robbers in 1973, his career was drawing to a close, with his final film, The Shootist coming in 1976.
By the 1970’s, westerns were going out of style in Hollywood,but the’Duke’, forever associated with that genre,could still draw in audiences.

For some,The Train Robbers is the worst ever Wayne western,,uninspired,boring,forgettable.
To others,( well,at least one person on IMDB) it’s a movie even Howard Hawks would have liked to claim as his own!
I take the view that The Train Robbers is a good western which deserves to be seen for what it is – a throwback to the classic era of the western – the 1950’s. ( And of course you can dispute my contention about that decade.)

It’s written and directed by Burt Kennedy, who wrote four of the best Randolph Scott 50’s westerns – Seven Men From Now, Commanche Station,The Tall T and Ride Lonesome.
It’s as if Kennedy knew Wayne might not be in the saddle much longer and he chose a story around the mythic western character John Wayne had become.

image

And maybe Wayne trusted Kennedy and appreciated the story of a small group of people battling the odds in unfriendly territory against a nameless enemy.
There are only eight roles in Train Robbers,including the mysterious character played by Ricardo Montalban who doesn’t utter a word till the very last scene.
Wayne is Lane,an ex-army man. Rod Taylor and Ben Johnson are Grady and Jesse. They rode with Lane in the Civil War. None of them are young any more,but Grady and Jesse are happy to follow Lane again.

image

Lane has persuaded a young widow, Mrs.Lowe (Ann Margret) to lead them to a fortune in gold that her late husband stole from Wells Fargo. Mrs. Lowe knows where the gold is hidden,in the Mexican desert. She wants to return it to the rightful owners so her young son won’t grow up thinking his father was a thief.
Lane and his men will collect the reward of $50,000.

Also in the group are Bobby Vinton,Christopher George and Jerry Gatlin, as Ben,  Cal and Sam, young guns willing to follow Lane if he leads them to a big reward.

image
My only casting complaint is Ann Margret who just looks too modern for the western setting. I can think of several actresses I would have preferred,all of whom were in their 40’s and 50’s and therefore,probably considered too old – Angie Dickinson,Vera Miles and Yvonne de Carlo – all of whom had worked previously with John Wayne. And there’s Anne Baxter,Virginia Mayo, Katy Jurado,Dorothy Malone,Eleanor Parker – all western veterans.
With minor plot tweaks, the character of Mrs. Lowe could easily have been an older woman.

Bobby Vinton.,Jerry  Gatlin.Vhristopher George,Rod Taylor,Ben Johnson

Bobby Vinton.,Jerry Gatlin.Christopher George,Rod Taylor,Ben Johnson

 

For  the first fifteen minutes of the film, there is no music. The group assemble at a windswept prairie train stop at Liberty,Texas and only  when Lane says, “Let’s go to Mexico” does Dominic  Frontiere’s music begin.

Lane realised that the men who were with Mrs. Lowe’s  husband on the robbery  will be after the gold too.  As Lane says, This much money up for grabs,likely they’ve got every two bit gunman in the territory along.”

And he’s right. A group of twenty to thirty men start following them, and what’s interesting and unusual is that these men are never identified; they are generally only seen in longshot, just a mass of riders with only one goal, to get the gold.

At one point, Lane and the others have crossed a river, and their followers are in sight. Lane says, “Cal,you and Sam hang back. Anybody starts crossing that river,baptise them.”

There’s a great shot of  the gunslingers  on the desert horizon as they finally catch up with Lane.

image

 

Another  memorable looking scene ( cinematography by William H. Clothier) is the spot in the desert where the gold is buried. It’s an  old wreck of a train, half buried in the sand, with cars and caboose turned upside down.

 

image

 

Two of the best written characters are Grady and Jesse ( Rod  Taylor and Ben Johnson.) Grady and Jesse have ridden together for ten years and  they look out for each other.

Later,when they await an attack from the riders, Grady says, “You and me,Jesse,we can’t get old. What the hell use are we gonna be to anybody in a rockin’ chair. All I’m saying is,don’t get old. You’ll live to regret it.”

 

My favorite line of dialogue comes near the end, (though  it wouldn’t  have worked with an older actress playing Mrs. Lowe.)

Lane and Mrs Lowe are talking and he says, You can tell the railroad we’ll drift by and pick up the reward.” She says, “That’s all you do,isn’t it,Mr Lane – drift – doesn’t seem like much of a life.”

She suggests  that he come back on the train with her ,but he stops her,saying, I got a saddle that’s older than you are,Mrs. Lowe.”

Lane and his men end up telling Mrs.Lowe to collect the reward, and that’s when the twist ending involving Ricardo Montalban kicks in.I love the surprise ending.

image

 

John Wayne, Ben Johnson, Ricardo Montalban

John Wayne, Ben Johnson, Ricardo Montalban

So,maybe you’ll give The Train Trobbers a first, or second look. It’s one I can watch again and again.

I was writing this post when I read of Rod Taylor’s death . So I dedicate this piece to Rod, a fine actor.

 

image

For more contrary opinions about movies, check out the Blogathon,CONTRARY TO POPULAR OPINION at SisterCelluloid.com

image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

20 responses »

  1. Good appreciation of the film. I wouldn’t rate it as a favorite of mine, it’s far from Wayne or Kennedy’s best work but it’s not a total dud either and I think I like it better than Rio Lobo, which just doesn’t work at all for me.
    Personally, I have no problem with Ann-Margret, she’s always easy on the eye.

  2. That’s what it’s all about ,isn’t it. We can’t all like the same films. Must admit I haven’t seen Rio Lobo for decades.

  3. Never minded this Duke film. Especially love the fact that Taylor and Johnson are with him on this journey. Ann also makes for nice eye candy which I suspect was partly the producers thinking for the box office pull.

    • Thanks, Kristina. I’d like to see more fans defend films they like and hardly anyone else does.
      There are certainly a few stars who never get written about – Jeanette MacDonald, Grace Moore for example. (I guess operetta isn’t popular).

  4. Generally I struggle with any Western but perhaps I should give this a try! Enjoyed reading your observations about the age of the female character which is something that irks me no end and clearly isn’t an attitude that Hollywood managed to leave behind in the 1970s!

  5. I have not seen this one but oh my word, Ann Margret! Yes, I can see how she would mess with suspension of disbelief. In any case, I enjoyed your case for the film. Thanks so much for joining in!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s