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The War Wagon

Updated: Mar 14, 2023

Clint Eastwood made more than a few enjoyable westerns as a wronged man seeking revenge. Who knew that John Wayne had created that mold back in 1967 with the enjoyable, traditional old-west adventure THE WAR WAGON.

The Duke plays Taw Jackson, a rancher who was shot and thrown in prison on false charges by the powerful man that wanted his land. Frank Pierce (Bruce Cabot) is that very nasty bad guy sitting in Taw’s living room, drinking his whiskey.

Taw’s out of jail, riding back into the crooked town with a plan to get back at Pierce by partnering up with Lomax (Kirk Douglas), the man who shot him!

Together, they hatch a caper to steal a huge gold shipment that Pierce is moving in an armored transport dubbed the War Wagon.

Douglas and Wayne own the screen bouncing barbs and punches back and forth. Douglas gives off the same easy charm his son Michael did for decades on the 70’s and 80’s.

The supporting cast is loaded with strong character actors like Keenan Wynn, Bruce Dern and Howard Keel. Poor Keel is badly cast as a Native American, I didn’t even recognize him under some unfortunate makeup for the first half of the film. I kept waiting for him to break out into a show tune, he’s legendary but miscast here.

The stunt work is first rate throughout by Yakima Canutt, the film legend behind stunt work in “Ben Hur” and most of the film classics of the era. Kirk Douglas performed all his own stunts, while Wayne, already hobbled by cancer surgery and down a lung, deferred to Canutt’s team.

This is a very old fashioned western.

Ed Ames sings the traditional theme song. The ladies of the evening in the bordello adjacent to the saloon all call ya Precious as they saunter up the stairs with drunken cowboys.

Director Burt Kennedy made a couple of my favorite westerns of the era, including James Garner’s “Support Your Local Sheriff” and its sequel. With less humor and more action than those films, he’s got a winning mix for his cast.

It’s a rare film in which Wayne plays the victim, but never count the Duke out.

By the time he and Douglas come out guns a blazin’ after the gold, it’s awful hard not to have a smile on your face.

THE WAR WAGON gets an old time B.

Wayne and Douglas after they shoot two bad guys:

Lomax: Mine hit the ground first.

Taw Jackson: Mine was taller.

Good shooting, boys.

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