[Originally published in Movietone News 22, April 1973]
Burt Kennedy is one of those fitfully interesting but dreadfully unreliable minor talents whose films are saved—when they are saved—by (frequently unassimilated) quirks in his style and treatment. Hannie Caulder, that bizarre European-based western of last year, included a wealth of outrageousness that seemed to presage a return to grace and a renewal of promise for Kennedy the director: Raquel Welch strutting around the desert naked under a poncho, Robert Culp prancing auspiciously out of the wilderness in El Topo hat and granny glasses to teach her how to shoot; brothers Ernest Borgnine, Strother Martin, and Jack Elam forming a manically inept criminal trio who nevertheless managed to be lethal for two of Hannie’s menfolk; Christopher Lee as a gaunt and happy gunsmith and family man living on the seashore; and a never-identified stranger in elegant black who materialized wordlessly now and again to collaborate in Hannie’s adventures.
The most memorable moment in The Train Robbers occurs when Kennedy’s Durango landscape, which has been attractively rendered throughout by cinematographer William Clothier, suddenly goes all wonky and transparent as Kennedy begins to matte in John Wayne & co., semi-transparent, upon an eerily beautiful sunset horizon in the back/foreground. The technique has no meaning, really, but it drives home what is basically wrong with this latest Kennedy, an almost complete lack of tension, in the characterizations (genial, for the most part, but uninteresting), in the situation (a chase after a party of buried-gold hunters in which the twenty pursuers remain undynamically anonymous), and in the treatment of terrain (attractive, as I say—Kennedy’s eye is eminently more graceful than, say, poor George Sherman, who perpetrated the monstrosity Big Jake—but rarely more than nicely pictorial). Those who love John Wayne will enjoy his bemused, abashedly erotic response to Ann-Margret even though they can’t enjoy Ann-Margret (he does just right by a lovely line when she more or less propositions him: “Lady, I’ve got a saddle that’s older than you are!”). Those who do not love him will sit and snort, and in this case the faithful won’t be able to come up with much of an argument to say them nay.
Copyright © 1973 Richard T. Jameson
THE TRAIN ROBBERS
Direction and Screenplay: Burt Kennedy. Cinematography: William H. Clothier. Music: Dominic Frontiere. Stunt supervision: Cliff Lyons. Production: Michael Wayne.
The Players: John Wayne, Ann-Margret, Ben Johnson, Rod Taylor. Christopher George, Bobby Vinton, Jerry Gatlin, Ricardo Montalban.