(Marvin Schwartz Presentation of a Batjac Production)
“The War Wagon” marked the 162nd film of John Wayne, who described his role as “the big tough boy on the side of rightthat's me.” Screenwriter Clair Huffaker, working from his own novel, similarly said: “John Wayne plays the strong, silent man, with a certain sense of humor and an inner feeling of justice.”
A revenge Western, “The War Wagon” is the story of Taw Jackson (Wayne), who's defrauded by Pierce (Bruce Cabot) of his gold-bearing land. After being shot, Jackson is placed in prison. Released from jail on parole, he plans vengeance on Pierce, scheming to heist the armored-plated coach with Gatling guns mounted in a turret on top. Half a million dollars in gold dust is to be carried.
For a $100,000 portion, gunman Lomax (Kirk Douglas), originally hired to gun down Jackson, now switches side to help Jackson. The three other allies are a canny Indian, Levi Walking Bear (played by white actor Howard Keel), Billy Wyatt (Robert Walker), a youthful drunk who's a wizard with dynamite, and a compulsive old thief Wes Catlin (Keenan Wynn), who brings along his 18 year old wife Kate (Valora Nolan).
The focus on justice, on being always on the right side of the law, entitled Wayne to pass judgment on others. Being on the side of justice, one is allowed to shoot it out and justice is a matter of instinct or feeling rather than cold rational law.
The writer Toeplitz has observed that the message of this Western is to feed the ideology of vigilante committees, volunteer militia, aiming to guard their rights and possessions, allegedly menaced by enemies, both black and red.
According to director Burt Kennedy, “The War Wagon” aims to sell “big open space and ritual.” The cowboy hero played by Wayne is a fast gun but he's also, more importantly and dangerously, a judge meting out punishment and dispensing justice.
Taw Jackson (John Wayne)
Lomax (Kirk Douglas)
Levi Walking Bear (Howard Keel)
Billy Hyatt (Robert Walker)
Wes Catlin (Keenan Wynn)
Pierce (Bruce Cabot)
Kate (Valora Nolan)
With: Gene Evans, Joanna Barnes, Terry Wilson, Don Collier
Release date: May 23, 1967
Running time: 101 minutes
Directed by Burt Kennedy
Screenplay: Clair Huffaker, based on his novel of the same title
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin