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"I've got a saddle older than you, Mrs Lowe."
on 4 July 2012
Despite its low reputation, Burt Kennedy's The Train Robbers has quite a bit going for it even if the end result is a pretty average oater best seen in a double-bill with a better film. John Wayne and old friends Rod Taylor and Ben Johnson (who, true to the formula in later Wayne pictures, handles all the dialogue filling in the Duke's backstory to make sure the audience knows what a great guy he is behind the bluster) team up to help widow Ann-Margret find the quarter of a million in gold her late husband stole so she can turn it in for the reward with a clear conscience. Naturally hubby's former partners in crime and a few more anonymous bad `uns they've recruited in the intervening years have plans of their own and are in hot pursuit.
For the two-thirds the plot can roughly be summed up as: Wayne and company ride at a leisurely pace while a band of band men gallop after them without catching up for the best part of an hour of screentime while Ricardo Montalban's silent stranger watches from a distance while smoking a cigar. Thankfully there's some good dialogue along the way that has fun playing with Wayne's many catchphrases while acknowledging the Duke is too old to play the romantic lead ("I've got a saddle older than you, Mrs Lowe"). Along the way we learn that Rod Taylor can't master an American accent, Ann Margret can't play drunk, Dominic Frontiere's busy score can't really get a grip on the film and can surmise that Bobby Vinton managed to annoy someone high up on the film from the way he's literally pretty much sidelined throughout the film - because he's often placed at the extreme edge of the frame and rarely does anything, he was almost completely cut out of Warner Home Video's old fullframe video transfer.
The action's decent when it comes in the last half hour and the wrecked train set among the desert sand dunes is a particularly memorable location, but its greatest asset is William Clothier's superb scope photography which ensures it's certainly one of the best looking Westerns of the 70s - the opening sequence of Ben Johnson waiting in a ghost town for a train amid swirling dust may not have the payoff of Once Upon a Time in the West, but it's a great scene setter the film doesn't have much chance of living up to. Still, as Taylor says, "It's something to do" even if it is more two-and-a-half stars than three.
Warner Home Video's US NTSC DVD has a fine 2.35:1 widescreen transfer with a few decent extras - a vintage making of featurette, a newer featurette on working with Wayne, original theatrical trailer and trailers for Tall in the Saddle, Fort Apache, Blood Alley, The Sea Chase, Cahill - U.S. Marshal and McQ.