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  Train Robbers, The Duke's loot
Year: 1973
Director: Burt Kennedy
Stars: John Wayne, Ann-Margret, Rod Taylor, Ben Johnson, Christopher George, Bobby Vinton, Jerry Gatlinas, Ricardo Montalban
Genre: WesternBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Looking for something useful to do, ageing Union army veteran Lane (John Wayne) gathers his buddies Grady (Rod Taylor) and Jesse (Ben Johnson) to accompany train robber's widow Mrs. Lowe (Ann-Margret) on an adventure to retrieve her late husband's gold. Dogging their path are not only the dead man's gang but an assortment of ruthless cutthroats and gunmen determined to get their hands on the loot. It falls to seasoned cowpoke Lane to use all his resourcefulness to keep the group alive, even as the presence of a mysterious cigar-chomping stranger (Ricardo Montalban) dogging their every move suggests there is more going on than meets the eye.

Too often dismissed as one of those late career films where John Wayne was merely going through the motions, The Train Robbers is actually one of the iconic western star’s better Seventies vehicles. Certainly more so than Andrew V. McLaglen's routine Cahill, U.S. Marshall released the same year. Though it lacks the depth and lyricism found in Wayne's earlier The Cowboys (1972) and later The Shootist (1976), The Train Robbers benefits from the wit and panache inherent in the script and direction of underrated western hand Burt Kennedy; here reuniting with Wayne after their previous wild west caper The War Wagon (1967). Kennedy layers his rollicking action-comedy script with disarming ruminations about growing old and seeking second chances. Whether it is Wayne's tough but fair-minded Lane, Rod Taylor's rascally Grady or ultimately even Ann-Margret's enigmatic widow, all of these characters are looking for their second wind. The gold is merely a means to achieve that end. Sharing the adventure reawakens a sense of purpose in ageing cowboys Lane, Jesse and Grady. Meanwhile riding alongside a man as morally upright and capable as Lane gives new companions Calhoun (Christopher George, here an ally after opposing the Duke in El Dorado (1967) though seemingly cast younger than he actually was) and Ben (Blue Velvet crooner Bobby Vinton in his second role in a John Wayne film after being shot to pieces in Big Jake (1971)) something to believe in. By the movie's twist ending everybody seems revitalized and ready for the next ride.

What The Train Robbers does lack though is a strong villain. Or indeed any characterized villain. What we get instead are an amorphous collective of hired guns viewed from afar but a menacing presence nonetheless. Influenced by the presentation of the posse pursuing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) the nameless mob has been interpreted by some fans as a quasi-mythic manifestation of every cinematic antagonist that ever drew down on the redoubtable Duke. Literally the ghosts of his past. Of course others might feel such a reading grants the film a sophistication it does not really have. Nevertheless as with a lot of Wayne's Seventies output the star brings with him the weight of his past roles in a manner that bolsters his stature here. While Wayne remains the primary draw the supporting cast are an amiable bunch with Taylor essaying the kind of lovable rogue Dean Martin usually played and Ben Johnson basically playing Ben Johnson. By this point all of his sidekick roles in John Wayne movies were all the same. Ann-Margret proves a worthy sparring partner for the Duke bringing the right mix of vulnerability and steely-eyed determination. The celebrated sex symbol was a trooper simply for showing up here. Only a few months prior she suffered a near fatal fall that left her with facial injuries and severe pain. The film flirts with a May-December romance that Wayne gently, amusingly rebukes when he tells Ann-Margret: "I’ve got saddle-bags older than you."

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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