Friday, February 25, 2011

The War Wagon

So many scenes and lines of dialog in The War Wagon are reminiscent of ASJ episodes that, at times, I felt I was watching a pastiche of the TV show. This movie, based on the book Badman by Clair Huffaker, was directed by Burt Kennedy. It was filmed in 1967, runs 101 minutes and was produced by Universal Studios. Set in and around Emmett, New Mexico, the movie was actually filmed in Durango, Mexico.

Starring John Wayne as Taw Jackson and Kirk Douglas as Lomax, The War Wagon is the quintessential buddy movie. As one character says to another, "A beautiful thing to see--friendship." Taw is a rancher framed for a crime and sent to prison so a rival could get control of the gold on his land. He has many attributes of Hannibal Heyes.

 Lomax is a gunfighter with scruples who ultimately sides with Taw in his quest to recover the gold that was stolen from him. Lomax resembles Kid Curry in many ways but there is one important difference: Lomax is the safe-cracker in this partnership. There is a lot of great banter between these two characters. Robert Walker, Jr. plays Billy Hyatt, an explosives expert whose character reminds me of Kyle.

Two actors who had multiple guest starring roles on ASJ appeared in The War Wagon. Keenan Wynn (Charlie Utley in Stagecoach Seven; Horace Wingate in Dreadful Sorry, Clementine; Artie Gorman in What Happened at the XST?) played a grumpy old codger who becomes part of the gang Taw assembles. He is immediately recognizable and even wears red underwear like he did on ASJ.
Joanna Barnes (Janet in How to Rob a Bank in One Hard Lesson and Mrs. Hanley in Miracle at Santa Marta) is Lola, a card dealer in a saloon; appearing about one hour into the movie, she looks a lot softer here than in ASJ.

Two other actors who appeared on ASJ also are in The War Wagon: Boyd "Red" Morgan (Augie Helms in The Fifth Victim) and Hal Needham in two uncredited roles (one of the Devil's Hole Gang members in Wrong Train to Brimstone and Duke in The McCreedy Bust: Going, Going, Gone).

ASJ episodes the movie reminded me of are, listed sequentially as the plot of The War Wagon develops: The Bounty Hunter; Six Strangers at Apache Springs; The Mcreedy Bust: Going, Going, Gone; The McCreedy Bust; How to Rob a Bank in One Hard Lesson; Wrong Train to Brimstone; The Long Chase. Sometimes it is an entire scene and sometimes it is just a line or two that makes the connection for me. In one instance, it is a prop--a safe that is cracked, using nitro by the way, has the name "Pierce Mining Company" on it. Could this be the precursor to the Pierce & Hamilton line of safes? The ending of The War Wagon is very ASJ-like as well.

There are three bonus features and all are worth watching. The first one is production notes about the making of The War Wagon. It includes a very interesting fact about Keenan Wynn. The second bonus feature gives biographies of John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, and Burt Kennedy. I learned that Kirk Douglas attended St. Lawrence University, just like Pete Duel! A theatrical trailer for the movie is the last bonus feature and it includes an oral description of the film by John Wayne, which is pretty interesting.

Watch The War Wagon and draw your own conclusion as to whether it had any influence on the television show that was produced by the same studio only a few years later!