John Wayne and Kirk Douglas appeared together in three films between 1965 and 1967. First off was "In Harm's Way" in 1965, then the ensemble picture that was "Cast a Giant Shadow" in 1966. Then came this film, their first Western, and sadly their last outing together. Sadly because The War Wagon shows a real genuine chemistry between two men who were very different socially; but on screen they clearly had regard for what each one gave to a movie. Directed by Burt Kennedy and coming out of Wayne's own Batjac Productions, The War Wagon centres around two old friends (some what grudgingly it seems) who plan to rob the vehicle of the title. An armoured stage coach, resplendent with Gatling Gun, manned front middle and centre with crack shot gunmen, and full of gold, lots of gold! Adding fuel to the fire is that the Wagon is run by a man called Frank Pierce (Bruce Cabot), who stole Taw Jackson's (Wayne) ranch as he "cough-cough" served time in jail. Further upping the intrigue is that Pierce wants to hire known gunman Lomax (Douglas) to kill Jackson, oblivious that the two men are plotting to rob him.
If that all sounds like a caper movie then you would be right, because it is, and a splendid one at that. A caper movie in a Western setting, lusciously photographed by Duke Wayne's favourite cinematographer, William H. Clothier at Durango in Mexico, and rattling along at a fair old clip. Support comes in the form of Howard Keel (a humorous turn as Indian Levi Walking Bear), Robert Walker Jr, Keenan Wynn, Valora Noland and look out for Bruce Dern in a short but effective role. We got quips aplenty as the two machismo fuelled stars play off each over with glee, we got one almighty punch up that had me personally laughing out loud and for those that like good stunt work, well we are well served there also. It's also a film to note because it sees Wayne playing a baddie, an ex convict leading an odd bunch of robbers, driven by revenge and greed. A role that by the looks of it, Wayne loved immensely. So saddle up folks, and as soon as you hear the quirky strains of Ed Ames' warbling "Ballad of The War Wagon," you should know you are in for a smashing little treat. 7/10