Saturday, May 27, 2017

Settling a Score

Lomax (Kirk Douglas): Do you always wear a gun over your underwear?

Taw Jackson (John Wayne): Just lately.

The war wagon concept dates back hundreds of years — to the Middle Ages when heavily armored wagons were used as both offensive and defensive weapons.

Their usefulness on the battlefield waned as the weaponry and tactics of war evolved. Perhaps it was inevitable, given how many horses it must have required to haul those things around. They weren't exactly your standard stagecoaches.

But apparently they found another use later on — as the forerunners to the armored car in which all sorts of things of value have been transported from one place to another over the years.

And the name of the western that premiered on this day in 1967, "The War Wagon," referred to an armored (and armed) wagon that carried a shipment of gold. The shipment belonged to a mine owner who had framed a rancher (John Wayne). The rancher ended up in prison, and the miner confiscated his land — then found gold on it.

The rancher's prison sentence was reduced for good behavior, and he returned to his old stomping grounds with the intention of robbing the miner of a shipment of that gold.

To assist him in this endeavor, he recruited a man (Kirk Douglas) who shot him several years earlier. Kennan Wynn played another one of Wayne's recruits as did Howard Keel.

It probably goes without saying that Wayne had scores to settle with both the miner who framed him and took his land and the man who shot him. That's a ticklish situation, to put it mildly. But Wayne managed to tiptoe delicately through the minefield.

When you've got apparent scores to settle with both your enemies and your allies, you don't have a lot of margin for error.

Wayne and Douglas had a kind of a friendly competition going on, though. At one point, after they had confronted and gunned down two bad guys (one of whom was Bruce Dern), Douglas remarked, "Mine hit the ground first."

To which Wayne replied, "Mine was taller."

The rest of the movie was about the caper — the attempt to get away with all that gold. And, while I usually try to find some moral or lesson in a movie or TV episode about which I am writing, I can't think of one for "The War Wagon." It was just good entertainment.

I know Wayne made westerns that were humorous as well as westerns that were dramatic. Most, I would say, would be categorized among the latter. That represented most of my exposure to the Duke, anyway.

But "The War Wagon" was different. It leaned more toward humorous, with Wayne's character more bemused than indignant about his circumstances — and I have always found that refreshing.