Saturday, May 7, 2022

#2,750. The Train Robbers (1973) - John Wayne in the 1970s


Writer / director Burt Kennedy’s 1973 western The Train Robbers has a lot going for it. The supporting cast - which includes Ben Johnson (The Wild Bunch, The Last Picture Show), Rod Taylor (The Time Machine, The Birds), Ann Margret (Bye Bye Birdie, Carnal Knowledge) and Christopher George (Graduation Day, Pieces) - is stellar, as are the locales (most of the movie was shot on-location in Mexico). There are also some pretty nifty action scenes, punctuated by a dynamite-fueled finale that damn near destroys an entire town.

But this is all just window-dressing, because from the first minute to the last, The Train Robbers belongs to John Wayne.

Lane (Wayne), a former officer in the Union Army, agrees to help the widowed Mrs. Lowe (Ann Margret) retrieve half a million dollars in gold that her late husband and nine of his associates stole from the railroad years earlier. Hoping to clear her husband’s name and make a better life for her son, Mrs. Lowe intends to return the gold to the railroad and claim the $50,000 reward, which she will then turn over to Lane and his associates Jesse (Johnson), Grady (Taylor), Calhoun (George), and Ben (singer Bobby Vinton) as payment for their services.

Unfortunately, some of the bandits who helped Mrs. Lowe’s husband rob that train are still alive, and want their share of the gold. In addition, a mysterious stranger (Ricardo Montalban) has been keeping an eye on Lane, Mrs. Lowe, and the others, following them all the way into Mexico (which is where the late Mr. Lowe stashed the gold).

Story-wise, the set-up for this 1973 western is fairly basic, with the good guys (Lane, Mrs. Lowe, etc) on one side and the bad guys (who never so much as speak) on the other. But while it’s story may seem a tad rudimentary, The Train Robbers remains engaging throughout thanks to star John Wayne, who plays Lane as a man of unwavering principles. He rejects the idea of keeping the gold once they’ve retrieved it, and is a gentleman at every turn in his dealings with pretty widow Mrs. Lowe, even when she hints that she’d like to be more than friends once the ordeal is over (“I have a saddle that’s older than you”, he says when rebuffing her advance).

In addition, Lane is always on top of things, and knows exactly what needs to be done to get the gold and avoid the gunslingers on their tail. Initially, he and Christopher George’s Calhoun don’t hit it off. Lane is convinced that the younger gunman is too hot-headed (Calhoun, who only just met Lane. challenges his orders on several occasions). Before long, however, Calhoun comes to respect Lane, and like Jesse and Grady, who've ridden with Lane for years, he realizes their best chance of survival is doing exactly what the big guy says! Having made a career out of playing strong-willed, savvy characters, Wayne is perfectly at home as the lead in The Train Robbers, and he commands the screen from start to finish.

Both Ben Johnson and (especially) Rod Taylor are excellent as Lane’s old army buddies, as is Ann-Margret as the alluring widow who isn’t afraid to pick up a gun when the need arises. In addition, there’s a story twist right at the end that made me laugh out loud (once it was revealed, I was kinda pissed that the movie was over). But it’s Wayne, and Wayne alone, who carries The Train Robbers to another level, taking what would have otherwise been a routine western and transforming it into a grand adventure.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

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