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Film / The War Wagon

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The War Wagon is a 1967 Western film starring John Wayne and Kirk Douglas, released by Universal Pictures, directed by Burt Kennedy, produced by Marvin Schwartz, and adapted by Clair Huffaker from his own novel. The supporting cast includes Howard Keel, Robert Walker Jr., Keenan Wynn, Joanna Barnes and Bruce Dern.

Taw Jackson (John Wayne) returns from prison having survived being shot, to the ranch and gold that Frank Pierce (Bruce Cabot) stole from him. Jackson makes a deal with Lomax (Kirk Douglas), the man who shot him 5 years ago to join forces against Pierce and steal a large gold shipment. The shipments are transported in the War Wagon, an armored stage coach that is heavily guarded. The two of them become the key players in the caper to separate Pierce from Jackson's gold.

The War Wagon contains examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Billy. Lomax finds him drunk under a verandah, and Taw goes to some length to ensure that he can't get anything stronger than cowboy coffee in the lead-up to The Heist. Most of the gang, and especially Lomax, aren't keen on the idea of someone with shaky hands handling nitroglycerine.
  • Badass Bandolier: Pierce's outriders wear crossed bandoliers. This is to emphasize how heavily armed they are, as each is carrying a Henry repeater, a revolver, and 400 rounds of ammunition.
  • Bandito: At the start of the movie, Levi Walking Bear is riding with a bandito gang on the border. When Taw and Lomax arrive to recruit him, they discover they have to rescue him from the banditos.
  • Bar Brawl: Levi starts one in order to prevent Taw and Lomax from having to shoot it out.
  • Body-Count Competition: Although not strictly speaking a body count competition, this exchange between John Wayne and Kirk Douglas often gets a Shout-Out in works featuring one:
    [after shooting down two bad guys]
    Lomax: Mine hit the ground first.
    Taw Jackson: Mine was taller.
  • Chandelier Swing: When Lomax sees one of Pierce's mooks drawing a bead on Taw during the Bar Brawl, he swings across the room on the chandelier to kick him in the chest.
  • Chairman of the Brawl: Taw smashes a chair over the head of one of the brawlers during the Bar Brawl.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Frank Pierce runs the Pierce Mining Co. He attempted to murder Taw Jackson and, when that failed, had him framed and sent to prison so he get control of Jackson's land.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Wes flies into a rage any time a man talks to, or even smiles at, his wife.
  • Demolitions Expert: Billy is recruited for the crew because of his expertise with explosives: being as good with explosives as Lomax is with a gun. The blase way in which he handles nitroglycerine tends to unnerve everyone else.
  • Domestic Abuse: Crazy Jealous Guy Wes certainly abuses his wife Kate emotionally, and probably physically as well. He treats her more like a possession than a spouse, and Kate later reveals to Billy that Wes bought her from her parents for $20 and a horse.
  • Gatling Good: The final refinement Pierce adds to the War Wagon is a Gatling gun.
  • Genre Mashup: The movie is blend of a caper film and a western.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: The bartender smashes a bottle over Levi's head during the Bar Brawl. Leads to a Punch! Punch! Punch! Uh Oh... moment as Levi is completely unfazed by the blow.
  • Hair-Trigger Explosive: Billy uses nitro to blow the bridge, leading to several nail-biting moments as he clings to the underside of the bridge and attaches the bottles.
  • Handsome Lech: Lomax. He hits on every attractive female he meets, and is living with a pair of Chinese prostitutes.
  • Hard Head: Levi Walking Bear gets a bottle smashed over his head during the Bar Brawl and takes it without blinking.
  • The Heist: The movie is about Taw Jackson's plan to heist a half million dollars worth of gold Pierce is transporting in the War Wagon.
  • I Ate WHAT?!: Billy tricks Wild Horse into taking a swig from a whiskey bottle filled with nitroglycerine. When Wild Horse spits it out and angrily throws away the bottle, the resulting explosion gives the gang the distraction they need to fight back.
  • I Own This Town: Frank Pierce completely controls the town, and has the sheriff and the deputy in his pocket.
  • Just Got Out of Jail: Taw arrives in town having just spent 3 years in prison.
  • A Lady on Each Arm: When Lomax meets Taw at the saloon, he has a pair of Chinese Soiled Doves hanging on his arms.
  • Mugged for Disguise: Lomax knocks out a Bandito and steals his sombrero and serape to get close to Levi in the bandito camp.
  • Never Bring a Knife to a Gun Fight: Wes is so enraged at being robbed by the Indians, he pulls a knife and tries to attack the Indian who is holding a rifle on him. He gets shot.
  • Non-Nude Bathing: Lomax tells Billy that any man who shares his horse has to be sober and clean, and then throws him into the river fully clothed. Lomax tosses him a bar of soap and Billy starts washing himself... over his clothes
  • Outside Ride: After knocking the driver and shotgun guard off, Taw and Lomax drop on to the roof of the War wagon. When the wagon jinks to the side, Lomax gets thrown off the roof and ends up hanging on to the side.
  • Percussive Prevention: When a drunk Billy is about to spill details of the planned heist in front of Pierce in the saloon, Lomax knocks him cold to prevent him talking; claiming that he had insulted a saloon girl as a an excuse.
  • Punch! Punch! Punch! Uh Oh...: The bartender smashes a bottle over Levi's head during the Bar Brawl. The bartender then gets an Oh, Crap! look on his face as an unfazed Levi turns around and floors him with a single punch.
  • Schizo Tech: Once the rotating turret with Gatling gun is added, the armored War Wagon is basically a horse-drawn tank.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Two of Pierce's underlings attempt to do this when they realize that they are trapped in a runaway wagon with no driver and no backup. One of them opens the door and prepares to bail out when Pierce pulls a gun on him. After a brief argument, Pierce shoots him for cowardice.
  • Stealing from the Till: Wes Fletcher pilfers from the supplies he delivers for Pierce. At the start of the film, he steals two bags of salt and hides them in a secret compartment under the drivers seat. Taw sees him and tells him to put them back, as he's no use to him if he gets sacked for stealing before The Heist.
  • Tae Kwon Door: Taw slams the door of the War Wagon into the face of one of Pierce's mooks when he takes back his gun. He later kicks the saloon door into the face of the sheriff during the Bar Brawl.
  • Vehicle Title
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: Lomax drops coins down the cleavage of a pretty Mexican girl as payment for the location of the Bandito camp.
  • Weaponized Car: A weaponized stagecoach. The eponymous war wagon is a heavily armoured stagecoach armed with a Gatling gun which Pierce uses to transport the gold from his mine.
  • William Telling: When the Banditos are torturing Levi by shooting at them, one of them shoots a tequila bottle off his head.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: Taw makes a deal with a band of Indians to attack the titular wagon in order to steal the gold. Part of the plan is to conceal the gold in a shipment of flour to carry it away. But at the end of the successful theft the Indians double-cross him and steal the flour, since it's enough to feed their band for months. In the process they toss the gold, much of which is in the form of dust and gets scattered. What's left has to be hidden because the thieves can't be caught openly carrying it in the wake of the theft. The "civilized" Indian working with Taw thinks they're stupid for choosing flour over gold but in the end they're the only ones who really come out ahead.
  • You Have Failed Me: Pierce shoots two of his henchmen when they attempt to abandon the War Wagon during the final chase.