The Train Robbers

Posted on January 1, 2014

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It comes as no surprise to those who know me that I like Westerns. I may have even mentioned that on this blog, too. Once or twice.

Despite having grown up watching John Wayne movies, I had not see The Train Robbers until forty years after it released. Boy, was I missing out.

Synopsis

Lane (John Wayne) is a gunman hired by a widow, Mrs. Love (Ann-Margret), to recover some gold stolen by her husband. He rounds up a gang of his old buddies (played by Rod Taylor and Ben Johnson, among others), one of whom recruits some new guys (Christopher George, Bobby Vinton). Pursued by a mystery man (Ricardo Montalban), they head out into the desert in search of gold.

Short Version

This is another great Western to show friends who think all Western movies are clichéd and similar.

Longer Version

I really enjoyed this film, for a number of reasons.

First, a theme runs through the movie about how we handle getting older, and how we teach, and learn from, the next generation. I’ll be 50 this year, and that is a theme that strikes close to my heart. I think Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis, Norris, and some other action stars should take a look at this movie as a fine example of how to admit your age, and how to age gracefully.

Second, I enjoyed the tension. It’s not at all clear if the younger guys will betray the older ones. It’s not clear if they can overcome the threats facing them during their journey, or even if they can find the gold. The constant pursuit by the mystery man and his small army of hirelings heightens the tension. Not until the last few moments of the movie are the true allegiances all finally revealed.

By the way, if you watch this movie and figure out the ending before the movie ends, please leave a comment here. I would love to know if I missed a clue.

From a storytelling standpoint, the main characters are pretty clear-cut. The older men are looking for that last big score, and they’re afraid that they are too old to get it.

The younger guys want to live up to their idols, but they have no idea how. They do not want to end up like the older men, desperate and broke.

Mrs. Love wants the gold because it would give her freedom and value in a time when women were often seen as little more than property. She’s afraid she may spend the rest of her life in a dance hall, gradually making less and less as age steals her youthful beauty.

Burt Kennedy, who wrote and directed The Train Robbers, started out directing TV shows like Lawman and Combat! He directed Support Your Local Sheriff (one of my all-time favorite comedies), The War Wagon, Dirty Dingus Magee, and Support Your Local Gunfighter (also a personal favorite). He knew Westerns, and he knew comedy. He was the light touch called for here.

In fact, this movie has a great alchemy between writer and actors. Although the characters and relationships are drawn sparingly, their dialogue is distinctive. The skill and experience of the actors only draws the characters more boldly. You have no trouble following who is who, or why they act the way they do.

The story does a good job of following the three-act story structure, carefully escalating the threats at each transition.

In the latter part of 2013, I started harping on white, male, Hollywood. In the context of 1973, The Train Robbers is pretty progressive. Ann-Margret is tough enough to stand up to and confound the sexism of the male characters. Mrs. Love is her own person, with her own ambitions and motivations. I am not saying this movie is a paragon of liberation and equality, but for its time it was several steps in the right direction.

DVD Bonus

I caught this one on DVD from Netflix, and the DVD they sent me had some terrific extras from surviving cast and stunt performers. I love that kind of extra on my DVD, which made me even happier that I rented this.

Conclusion

If you want something to warm you up while we wait for Spring, check out The Train Robbers.

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Posted in: Movies