Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Crime Goes West in "War Wagon"

Cleveland Press June 7, 1967

The comedy-crime caper is one type of popular film. The western is perennially a favorite and the action. adventure movie continues to rate with audiences.

Put them all together and you have "War Wagon," a story of an impossible theft pulled off by a group of experts, all of it played in a western setting.

This combining of more than one formula sounds like a movie by committee, but it comes off a little better than that. The script is by Claire Huffaker, a pro at turning out western novels and screenplays and skillful enough to keep the plot pot boiling and the dialog reasonably bright.

"The War Wagon" title refers to an armored wagon sort of a horse-drawn Brinks, which Bruce Cabot uses to haul gold from his mine.

Only Cabot is the villain of the piece, and the mine is on land that once belonged to John Wayne before Cabot framed him and had him sent to jail

At the movie's start, Wayne is out of jail and Cabot is worried enough to hire gunman Kirk Douglas to eliminate him.

DOUGLAS IS A RASCALLY SORT who can be bought by anyone and Wayne buys him by promising a cut of the loot. Others who are brought in on the planned heist are Robert Walker as a boozing demolitions expert; Howard Keel as an Indian in a bit of casting that must have been done just for kicks; and Keenan Wynn as a grizzled old wagon driver.

There is an over-elaborate plan to stop armor plated wagon (which also has a Gatling gun turret and an army of heavily armed outriders) -- a plan that includes fancy roadblocks, explosions and an Indian attack.

There's a flaw in the notion of a bullet-proof wagon drawn by flesh-and-blood horses, but since it never occurs to either side, I suppose it doesn't matter.

The action is played straight but the dialog and some of the subplot situations are done tongue in cheek.

Wayne is his usual robust self though looking just a little heftier than he has.

Douglas is very athletic in action scenes in which there obviously was no double and he seemed to relish playing the part of a rogue.

Together, Wayne and Douglas are adept at keeping the dialog light and the action fast.