Each Monday, I continue to share Western movie reviews. I have now launched a podcast about the making of Westerns and the overall filmmaking process. Click here to listen.
Week 167: The War Wagon (1967)
The War Wagon doesn’t have the best reputation. To me, it’s not so much that Burt Kennedy’s Western adventure is a bad film but it’s pales in comparison to all the other films, especially Wayne’s, that it’s similar to.
In many ways, this feels like a riff on Rio Bravo, not in terms of plot but key elements. You’ve got an assembly of two good gunfighters, one who might be better than the other, a drunk, an old man character (as cantakerous as Stumpy but not nearly as loveable), a villain with a horde of men, and explosives. It’s like taking a successful formula, switching things up here and there, and trying to package it as something else. The trouble is, nothing works as well as it did in the Hawks picture. None of the characters are as sharp, including Wayne’s, and we simply don’t care too much about them. In particular, the tension between Kirk Douglas and Wayne is never believable. I mean, did any of you ever worry one was actually going to kill the other? It’s all puff and no danger.
The comparisons go on. Even Bruce Cabot in Big Jake played a better indian than Howard Keel. Cabot here is an okay villain but we never really learn enough about him to hate, dislike, or like him. When his men suddenly abandon him at the end, it’s totally inconsistent with what we’ve seen the rest of the movie. The action climax, which has been pretty striking up to that point, suddenly fizzles. I sound like a broken record but as the great Hawks said, “There’s only action if there’s danger,” and there’s no danger here.
Don’t get me started on Kirk’s final moment… it’s embarrassing. But to be clear, I did not despise this movie. I found it to be mildly enjoyable and mostly unmemorable.
Watched on Amazon