John Wayne, Rod Taylor, Ben Johnson, and Ricardo Montalban all in the same Western? I'm in!
These four favorite actors costarred in THE TRAIN ROBBERS, an amiable Western about a small group of cowboys hired by a widow (Ann-Margret) to find some gold hidden by her outlaw husband. She plans to turn the gold in to clear his name for the sake of their young son, and the men can split the reward money.
In addition to Wayne, Taylor, and Johnson, the cowboys are played by Christopher George, Bobby Vinton, and Jerry Gatlin. Montalban plays a mysterious cigar-smoking man who trails the group over the border into Mexico.
The movie is nothing particularly special, but it's enjoyable, and what better group of actors to spend 92 minutes with? In that sense it reminded me of movies like Wayne's 1963 film DONOVAN'S REEF, which is fun simply in order to watch Wayne & Co. hanging out together having a good time.
Needless to say, John Wayne and Ben Johnson had worked together for decades. This also happened to be the fourth film Christopher George made with Wayne, following IN HARM'S WAY (1965), EL DORADO (1966), and CHISUM (1970).
Montalban doesn't speak for most of the movie, but when he finally does talk in the last scene it's quite delightful. Although they were not regular costars, Wayne and Montalban had longstanding loose family connections. Montalban's sister-in-law, Loretta Young, was best friends with Wayne's first wife, Josie, and served as the bridesmaid at the Waynes' wedding. Additionally, Wayne had worked onscreen with Montalban's other sisters-in-law, Polly Ann Young and Sally Blane.
The film was written and directed by Burt Kennedy, whose work with Wayne went back to the Wayne-produced Scott-Boetticher Western SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (1956). Leonard Maltin has written that THE TRAIN ROBBERS is "reminiscent of Kennedy's early Randolph Scott scripts," and that struck me as an apt comparison. I could completely imagine Scott playing Wayne's part, and like the Scott movies, the film focuses on a tight cast of characters.
Kennedy, incidentally, directed my favorite James Garner movie, SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF! (1969).
One of the film's most notable aspects is its fine widescreen cinematography. There are some marvelous shots, including the cast riding across various impressive Western landscapes or the menacing gang of bad guys all lined up on horseback atop a hill.
Like others in the cast and crew, cinematographer William H. Clothier also had longstanding ties with Wayne, dating at least as far back as doing uncredited work on FORT APACHE (1948). Clothier was the camera operator on several Wayne films of the '50s, and served as cinematographer on other films produced by or starring Wayne in the '50s, including SEVEN MEN FROM NOW and ESCORT WEST (1958). Clothier worked with Wayne constantly throughout the '60s and '70s; Clothier retired after THE TRAIN ROBBERS, at the age of 70, while Wayne would go on to make five more films.
A bit of trivia: I felt like there was something odd about Wayne and Ann-Margret's characters being named Mr. Lane and Mrs. Lowe; thanks to some trivia posted at IMDb, I realized what it was. Those were also the names of the lead characters in Wayne's 1953 film HONDO.
THE TRAIN ROBBERS is available on DVD in an excellent print. Extras include the trailer and a featurette with actor-stuntman Jerry Gatlin and others.
It's also had a release on VHS.