Friday, September 16, 2011
Movie Review: The War Wagon (1967)
A tongue-in-cheek western with a streak of dry humour, The War Wagon allows two screen veterans to have fun without totally abandoning the pillars of the genre. The movie has plenty of horses, gun-play, bare-knuckle fist fights and Indians, but scrubs-off any edge of seriousness and replaces it with a wink and a smile.
Released on parole, Jackson is back in town and looking to reclaim what is his. Rightfully predicting the worst, Pierce tries to hire ace gunman Lomax (Kirk Douglas) to kill Jackson. But Jackson gets to Lomax first, and recruits him to help execute a daring heist of the War Wagon. Assisted by the Indian Levi (Howard Keel), the perpetually drunk explosives expert Billy Hyatt (Robert Walker Jr.), and inside-man and old geezer Catlin (Keenan Wynn), Jackson and Lomax hatch a plan to destroy the War Wagon and take off with a large supply of gold.
Lomax and Jackson simultaneously shoot and kill two bad guys:
Lomax: Mine hit the ground first.
Jackson: Mine was taller.
The supporting cast features a host of Western veterans shooting their guns straight and earnestly reciting their lines to counterbalance the levity of the two stars. There is also a brief but memorable appearance by Bruce Dern: he is one of the two bad guys who are shot to prompt the classic "mine was taller" exchange of dialogue.
The portrayal of Indians is generally unenlightened, even for 1967, although they do emerge as beneficiaries of the sting in the tale. This is the only major quibble in Clair Huffaker's script that otherwise features an epic everyone-against-anyone saloon fist-fight, and misadventures with nitroglycerin, a welcome departure from the standard over-dependence on dynamite in most Westerns.
The War Wagon is an entertaining farewell wave to a genre that was otherwise fast galloping towards the canyon's dead-end.
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