The War Wagon (1967)

And so this is Christmas (Eve), and what can I watch? Well, I could watch It’s a Wonderful Life on ABC1—hadn’t looked at the TV guide so was momentarily disconcerted when it came on after the midday news—cos it’s the festive season and I’ve never seen it; it’s one of the big gaps in my classic Hollywood knowledge. However, it’ll have to remain that way for a while longer, cos I decided after a few minutes that Frank Capra’s beloved chunk of Christmas cheer wasn’t something I was in the mood for, and so went back to the unwatched DVD pile. I got this in a triple-pack with Winchester 73 and High Plains Drifter, likely wouldn’t have bothered with this on its own, but while it was hardly life-changing it was still pleasant Friday afternoon viewing. John Wayne is, shall we say, a wronged man, well-to-do until a corrupt businessman stole everything from him, had him shot and sent to jail; out on parole, he’s out for revenge, returning to take back half a million dollars in gold. In short, it’s a caper movie set in the Old West involving a gang of assorted misfits, with the added potential twist that the other chief partner (Douglas) has been offered $12,000 to kill Wayne by the man Wayne’s out to rob. Will he take the gamble on the bigger amount or settle for the smaller but definite sum? No real prizes for guessing, of course, but the sparks between Douglas and Wayne (suddenly sounds like a gay romantic comedy, doesn’t it?) give this film a good lift; the set-up is probably a lot longer than it really needs to be, but the heist is good and the widescreen visuals are put to good use. Undemanding and old-fashioned in many ways, but pleasing stuff.

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