Posts from Richard--W in thread „The Train Robbers (1973)“

    The Train Robbers (Burt Kennedy, 1973) is mildly entertaining and lightly enjoyable, and I certainly prefer it to Rooster Cogburn (Stuart Millar, 1975). However, it's also slight and simplistic, and it needed a richer writer-director than Burt Kennedy to bring out greater depths and darkness, the kind of intricacy and tension that could have made the film something more than disposable entertainment. I didn't feel that Kennedy set up the bizarre, comically ambiguous "twist' ending with appropriate development, either. On the brighter side, Wayne's performance is quite sharp and fluid, really marking an alert groove. I love the silent rage the he suddenly displays at the end of Ann-Margaret's drunken diatribe.

    The Train Robbers is free of pretensions. It doesn't have to be more than it is. The film is focused on telling a straightforward story and depicting western characters in a certain way. Simplicity, not simplistic. Simplicity is not a bad thing, certainly not a flaw.

    I don't often find myself agreeing with Roger Ebert even when I find him interesting, which I usually do. But this is a fair review. I agree that Burt Kennedy's writing is not his best, but his story is sufficient, and it operates on traditional values that seem like virtues today because they are scarce and, if I may say so, needed. The Train Robbers harkens back to the late 1950s when Kennedy wrote those genuinely rugged, stoic, lean and terse westerns for Boetticher and Scott. Those were impressive films because they were so straightforward, minimalist, and austere. Dramatically The Train Robbers wants to unfold like Comanche Station (1960), Ride Lonesome (1958) and The Tall T (1957). That is how it's written. But it is timed longer and paced slower. It's a 75-minute western stretched out to 93 minutes. Perhaps it's just in the editing. The film is about fifteen-to-twenty minutes longer than it needs to be. If it were shorter, it would seem fuller and play out with more suspense. You wouldn't notice the holes. But you couldn't release a film that short in the 1970s, not with a major star in it.

    Technically, the craftsmanship on display is something you rarely see today. Visually, the film is real western, true western. I wallow in the hard light, the rich color, and the pristine scenery. There is dust, rain with thunder and lightning, mountains and rivers, and sunlight bouncing off surfaces and hat brims like some kind of blessing. Through these elements and nature ride men with honor. It's a photographer's western. Cameraman William Clothier was worth his weight in gold -- why don't people talk more about him? This is where his finest western photography resides for all time. The film is all about composition and movement, the pleasure of watching men and horses move across vast pictorial landscapes. It's eye candy, and I have thought so ever since I first saw it at the Hicksville Twin on Long Island on a freezing cold afternoon in early 1973. I was there for the first screening on opening day.

    I enjoy The Train Robbers and I prefer it over The War Wagon, The Undefeated, Cahill, and Rooster Cogburn. I think Big Jake could have benefited from Burt Kennedy giving the script his once-over and narrowing the focus on what's important. And getting rid of those damn motorcyles.