Sunday, July 10, 2011

Tonight's Movie: The Train Robbers (1973)

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.


Blogger Kevin Deany said...

Laura, I think I like this film even more than you do. I really like the relaxed atmosphere among the cowboys and the many discussions amongst themselves.

It also has one of my favorite lines of dialogue, when Wayne rebuffs Ann Margaret's romantic overtures. "I've got a saddle that's older than you." Just great.

I hope Rod Taylor and John Wayne got along well. I know Wayne was heading towards the end of his career, but he liked appearing in movies with people he liked. This was the only film they made together.

From what I've read about Taylor, he was Wayne's kind of man, and I hope they got along. Always wished that Wayne would have used him in one of his later movies.

I've liked most Burt Kennedy movies I've seen and am glad you brought up William Clothier's contributions. One of my favorite cinematographers.

Very good post, Laura.

1:55 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Kevin, I really appreciated all your comments! I commented to my husband I wished Wayne and Taylor made more movies together. (I've become quite a Taylor fan in the past year.). My husband commented Wayne must have liked Christopher George since he hired people he liked to work with. :)

Best wishes,

2:53 PM  
Blogger Ed South said...

Cool. I've had this pretty high up on my Netflix list for a while as I'm currently having a classic movie crush on Ann-Margret!

9:41 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hope you enjoy it, Ed!

Have you seen BYE, BYE BIRDIE and VIVA LAS VEGAS? :)

Best wishes,

9:54 PM  
Blogger Ed South said...

Viva Las Vegas got me started....I rewatched Birdie recently too. On Netflix Streaming I saw The Swinger which was good fun and CC & Company which was a pretty bad biker flick from 1970 with Joe Nameth. I really want to see Kitten With A Whip which doesn't appear to be on DVD.

10:07 PM  
Blogger Vienna said...

I think TRAIN ROBBERS has a lot going for it. That anonymous group of men who follow the trail of Wayne and co. And the mysterious figure of Ricardo Montalban. Plus the nice relationships between Rod Taylor and Ben Johnson
And how Christopher George grows to admire Wayne .
I would have preferred someone other than Ann Margret - I like her but didn't think this part suited her.

2:26 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for stopping by, Vienna -- I'm glad you enjoyed this too. Agreed with your comments. Really like the cast on this one. Hard not to enjoy a movie with Wayne, Taylor, Johnson, and Montalban. :)

Best wishes,

7:44 PM  

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