The War Wagon

The War Wagon is a 1967 American Western film directed by Burt Kennedy and starring John Wayne and Kirk Douglas. Released by Universal Pictures, it was 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. The picture received generally positive reviews.

The War Wagon
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBurt Kennedy
Produced byMarvin Schwartz
Written byClair Huffaker (novel and screenplay)
Music byDimitri Tiomkin
CinematographyWilliam H. Clothier
Edited by
Batjac Productions
Marvin Schwarz Productions
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • May 27, 1967 (1967-05-27)
Running time
101 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$9,528,000[1]

Filming took place in Sierra de Órganos National Park in the town of Sombrerete, Mexico.[2]


Rancher Taw Jackson (John Wayne) returns to his hometown to settle a score; he was released early for good behavior. Three years earlier, he was framed by corrupt businessman Frank Pierce (Bruce Cabot) and wrongfully imprisoned; Pierce then appropriated Jackson's land, where he discovered gold.

Jackson has returned to steal a shipment of gold from Pierce. He hires Lomax (Kirk Douglas) to assist him, even though Lomax had worked as a hired gun for Pierce and was instrumental in sending Jackson to prison. Jackson needs Lomax not only because of his marksmanship, but also because he is a safecracker. The gold shipment is being transported in a "war wagon", a heavily armored stagecoach armed with a deadly Gatling gun in a top-mounted steerable turret. Jackson and Lomax assemble a gang and plan to rob the war wagon at the weakest point in the route it travels.

Things do not quite work out as planned. Pierce dies in a shootout with one of his own men trying to escape from the war wagon. The wagon crashes into a ravine, Lomax opens the safe, and the men move the gold into a separate wagon. However, before they can haul it away, a group of Kiowas try to take it from them. During the ensuing gunfight, the horses are spooked and run away with the wagon, and most of the gold is lost as a result. Nevertheless, Taw manages to recover a portion of it, and they agree to meet in six months to divide it, since "it wouldn't be very smart to flash gold around after a robbery".



The film was based on the Claire Huffaker novel Badman which was published in 1957.[3] He later said he wrote the novel in ten days.[4]

In September 1962 Huffaker announced he would adapt the novel into a script at Producers Studio for his own Lucifer Productions. They were also going to make Guns of Rio Conchos, The Day Before Tomorrow and Ship on Highway 7.[5] The project eventually went to Universal. Huffaker spent three months writing the script.[4]

In June 1966 John Wayne announced he had signed a two picture deal with Universal, the movies being The War Wagon and The Green Berets. The film would be a co production between Wayne's company, Batjac, and producer Marvin Schwartz.[6]

It was the eleventh book of Huffaker's that he had sold to the movies. As a result Trident Publishing put him under contract to write a book a year for five years.[7]

In July 1966 Kirk Douglas was announced for the co-starring role. The same month Burt Kennedy signed to direct.[8]

Filming started 19 September 1966 and went for 12 weeks. The film was shot in Durango, Mexico and Curubusco Studios in Mexico City. "We have great, manly cynical humor going for us now," said Wayne. One cute scene and we're dead." He added that "We're gaining a day every week. This combined Hollywood and Mexican crew is great. If we can come home a week under schedule, we'll all be home with our families for turkey dinner."[9]

Huffaker was present on set for the first and last three weeks of production. While there he made a number of further changes to the script.[4]

Kennedy said he let Wayne direct himself.[10]

Comic book adaptation

  • Dell Movie Classic: The War Wagon (September 1967)


Box office

The film opened at number one at the domestic box office in 1967. It grossed $9,563,000 in total, making it a success.

One account called it a "smash success".[11]

Critical response

The War Wagon was met with generally positive reviews from critics. Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars, who called it "that comparative rarity, a Western filmed with quiet good humor. It is also a point of departure for John Wayne, who plays a bad guy for just about the first time in his career."[12]

The movie holds a 90% "Fresh" score on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 10 reviews.[13][14]

See also


  1. "Big Rental Films of 1967", Variety, 3 January 1968 p 25. Please note these figures refer to rentals accruing to the distributors.
  3. Western: Roundup By HOFFMAN BIRNEY. New York Times (1923-Current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]04 Aug 1957: BR11.
  4. The One-Man Revolt in Hollywood Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times 13 Aug 1967: c14.
  5. Entertainment: Barbara Eden Forms Own Film Company Los Angeles Times 4 Sep 1962: C13.
  6. Kirk Douglas Will Produce and Star Martin, Betty. Los Angeles Times (1923-1995); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]24 June 1966: c13.
  7. Film Shapes Up for Beatles Martin, Betty. Los Angeles Times 7 July 1966: c15.
  8. Hope, Diller Team for 'Lam' Los Angeles Times 18 July 1966: c25.
  9. 'The War Wagon' Rolls in Mexico Los Angeles Times 9 Oct 1966: B13.
  10. THE LAST COWBOY SAINT: "Marion Michael Morrison is an old man...but when he bellows you know he's still John Wayne" COWBOY SAINT Goldstein, Richard. Los Angeles Times 5 Feb 1967: a20.
  11. A Hard Ride to Top of Western Heap: BURT KENNEDY Thomas, Kevin. Los Angeles Times (1923-1995); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]29 Aug 1967: d1.
  12. Ebert, Roger (1 June 1967). "The War Wagon". Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  13. Dell Movie Classic: The War Wagon at the Grand Comics Database
  14. Dell Movie Classic: The War Wagon at the Comic Book DB
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