“The War Wagon” (1967) Starring John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Howard Keel, Robert Walker Jr. Bruce Cabot, Keenan Wynn. Written by Clair Huffaker, based on his novel. Directed by Burt Kennedy. Standard serio-comic western which places Wayne in the rare role of the pseudo-bad guy, or is he?. In this film he’s Taw Jackson, an ex-con who’s out to rob the even badder guys who stole his ranch and then set him up to serve a stretch in prison. So technically there is no break in the Wayne persona, which veered explosively in John Ford’s “The Searchers” and then returned to the relative comfort zone. The supporting characters are a grab bag of western “types” usually played for background color, but in this case brought to the forefront to give the illusion of a density of incident that just isn’t there: they include a jealous, compulsive thief (Wynn), a drunken explosives expert with an inconveniently loose tongue (Walker Jr.), an Indian who can’t stay out of trouble (Keel) and Taw’s eventual partner Lomax, (Douglas) a gunslinger who is contracted to kill him and was also instrumental in helping frame him in the first place. If it all sounds rather forced and gimmicky, it is that, but Wayne and Douglas make an amusing duo helped by some brisk witty dialogue that often doesn’t know when to quit and gets too cute for it’s own good; as if the two are accompanied across the landscape by a team of overworked comedy writers.
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