Written and Directed by Burt Kennedy
February 7, 1973
A group of men are hired to recover stolen gold led by the widow of one of the robbers so that she can return the gold and start over.
John Wayne is, well, John Wayne but this time going by the name of ‘Lane.’ He is an aging gunman looking for an easy payday. There is nothing too special about this character in the Wayne repertoire. The part is largely carried by Wayne’s screen presence alone and he uses his usual persona.
Ann-Margaret is all sultry and charming up on the screen as the widow Mrs. Lowe. Her character is capable enough. She gives as good as she gets and her and Wayne have good chemistry together. Fun fact: in Hondo, Hondo’s last name was ‘Lane’ and the widow was named ‘Mrs. Lowe’ in a similar manner as to here though the films are not related.
Ricardo Montalban played great villains or just great heavies. Khan in Star Trek is clear evidence of that. He could be simply intimidating or utterly maniacal. Here though he is criminally underused as a character only referred to as The Pinkerton Man who is clearly meant to bwe threatening but does very little. Montalban’s name is in the title credits and you see him briefly at the very beginning of the film and he shows up at the end at the train station. I really wish there was more of him in the film, but his appearance is a little better than a cameo with his only lines coming when there is about two minutes left in the film.
The villains of the movie are there but you really do not know too much about them. They are the remnants of the gang that robbed the train with possible additional men, but you never see what they look like nor is their screen time anything beyond chasing the main characters or shooting at them. The focus is kept on the group getting the gold. And it works in my opinion. The story is about the characters getting the loot and really just their adventures on the way to get the gold.
The Train Robbers is not one of John Wayne’s greatest works, but it is an enjoyable film. I think however that if it were not for John Wayne the movie would have been ultimately forgettable and no one would even know it existed at this point. It would be a film that wound up in a multipack in an octagonal carboard bin before being dumped in an extreme discount retailer since nobody was going to pay $5 for it along with a few other no name oldies.
Wayne’s charisma gives it something special. There is a little extra kick in it because we get to watch Wayne do what he does best and that is play a tough and honorable Western character. And because of him, this is not a revisionist western. It does not try to take apart the mythology of the West in any way. It embraces classic Western mythology and just goes with it. The film is not pretentious or full of itself. It is a light adventure yarn of the old days.
The main issue I have with this film is the twist at the end which came out of nowhere and felt tacked on. It kind of took away from the rest of the story. It made some of the motivations and character development earlier in the film almost pointless though it did provide for a lighter ending.
I do not think a humorous ending was necessary though. This was a comedy but not a heavy comedy. Calling the entire film ‘humorous’ might be a bit more accurate. In such a film they could have just ended with Mrs. Lowe boarding the train but then that would have eliminated the Pinkerton Man as presented.
The Train Robbers is not the greatest Western ever, but it is an enjoyable and light action romp carried largely on the screen presence of Ann-Margret and the legendary John Wayne. Not a must see, but you will like it and you will probably visit it again after watching the first time. Watch it!