The War Wagon

The War Wagon is a 1967 American Western heist 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, Bruce Cabot, Joanna Barnes, Valora Noland, Bruce Dern, and Gene Evans. The film received generally positive reviews.

The War Wagon
War Wagon film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBurt Kennedy
Written byClair Huffaker (based on his novel Badman)
Produced byMarvin Schwartz
CinematographyWilliam H. Clothier
Edited by
Music byDimitri Tiomkin
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 returns to his hometown to settle the score with Frank Pierce, a corrupt businessman who, three years earlier, got him wrongfully imprisoned and appropriated his land to gain access to a recently-discovered deposit of gold. Jackson plans to steal an upcoming $500,000[a]-shipment of gold dust from Pierce's "war wagon", an armored stagecoach surrounded by guards on horseback, getting his information from Wes Fletcher, an elderly wagon driver employed by Pierce to transport dry goods. The third member Jackson recruits for his five-man team is Lomax, a gunslinger and safecracker who shot Jackson as part of Pierce's earlier plot.

The fourth team member is Levi Walking Bear, a Kiowa translator, who Jackson and Lomax rescue from a gang of Mexican bandits. Jackson then sends Lomax to pick up the final member, Billy Hyatt, a teenage drunkard and explosives expert. When the team first meets to discuss their plan, Fletcher brings his teenage "wife" Kate along and flies into a jealous rage when Hyatt gives her some coffee.

Jackson and Levi negotiate with the Kiowas and, because Pierce is starving the tribe so he can take their land once they leave, they agree to help. Meanwhile, Lomax rides into town and is approached in a saloon by Pierce, who offers him $12,000 to kill Jackson. Hyatt, drunk, enters, and Lomax knocks him unconscious and gets him thrown in jail for the night when he starts to brag about the upcoming robbery. Lomax tells Pierce that he accepts the man's offer.

In the morning, Jackson sends Hyatt to Fletcher's farm. Hyatt finds Kate alone, and she reveals that her poor parents had traded her to Fletcher. Fletcher returns and threatens Hyatt with a knife, but Jackson arrives in time to defuse the situation.

Hyatt says he wants to use nitroglycerin for his part of the heist, so he, Jackson, and Lomax sneak onto Jackson's old ranch to steal some from Pierce, who now lives there. Jackson keeps Pierce distracted by pretending to collect some of his old things, while Lomax and Hyatt crack a safe and take the explosives.

The next day, Hyatt rigs a bridge with bottles of nitro, Levi blocks the war wagon's route with a felled tree, Lomax and Jackson set up a booby trap in a narrow gorge, and Pierce and his guards set out with the gold in the war wagon. Kiowa warriors create a distraction that briefly draws off the wagon's mounted guards, causing them to be just far enough behind that they are stranded on the other side of a canyon when the bridge explodes behind the wagon. Some more Kiowa warriors attack the wagon to get the gold for themselves, but a newly-installed Gatling gun forces them to retreat.

The fallen tree diverts the wagon into the gorge, and Jackson and Lomax spring their trap, killing the drivers. Pierce shoots the last two of his men when they try to desert him, but the second shoots back as he dies, killing Pierce. The wagon crashes into a gulch, and Jackson's team hides the gold dust in some barrels of flour on Fletcher's cart. Kiowa warriors arrive and Fletcher is killed when he attempts to stop them from taking the gold, but Hyatt manages to use the last bottle of nitro to kill the chief and scare the remaining warriors away. The explosion spooks the cart horses and, as they run, the flour barrels fall off and break open next to a group of Kiowas who are leaving their land. Unaware that there is gold mixed in, they gather up the flour to feed themselves.

Jackson reaches the cart first and finds, in a hidden compartment, $100,000 worth of gold that Fletcher was going to steal from his partners. Thinking they have lost everything, Levi returns to the Kiowas and Lomax angrily takes Jackson's horse as payment. When Hyatt arrives with Kate, Jackson gives them a small amount of the dust. He hides the rest, which protects him after Lomax finds out about its existence (or, at least, will until after he, as planned, reunites the gang in six months to divide the loot).



The film was based on the 1957 novel Badman by Clair Huffaker.[3] In September 1962, he announced he would adapt Badman 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),[4] but the project eventually went to Universal. Huffaker said that, while he had written the novel in ten days, he spent three months writing the screenplay.[5] Because Badman was the eleventh book that Huffaker had sold to a film studio, Trident Publishing put him under contract to write a book a year for five years.[6]

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. This film would be a co-production between Wayne's company, Batjac, and producer Marvin Schwartz.[7]

The following month, it was announced that Kirk Douglas would play the co-starring role in the film and Burt Kennedy would direct.[8] The extensive second-unit stunt work for the film was supervised by Cliff Lyons.

Filming took place in Durango, Mexico, and at Churubusco Studios in Mexico City, starting on September 19, 1966, and lasting 12 weeks. About the shoot, Wayne said: "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 and, while there, made a number of changes to the script.[5] Kennedy said he let Wayne direct himself in the film.[10]


Box officeEdit

Movie poster by Howard Terpning

The film debuted in first place at the domestic box office. It grossed $9,563,000 in total, making it a success (one account called it a "smash success").[11]

Critical responseEdit

The War Wagon was met with generally positive reviews from critics and holds a 90% "Fresh" score on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 10 reviews.[12][13] Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars, calling 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."[14]

Comic book adaptationEdit

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

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Approximately $12-13 million today.


  1. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1967", Variety, 3 January 1968 p 25. Please note these figures refer to rentals accruing to the distributors.
  2. ^ "Filming Location Matching "Sierra%20de%20Organos,%20Sombrerete,%20Zacatecas,%20Mexico" (Sorted by Popularity Ascending)". IMDb.
  3. ^ HOFFMAN BIRNEY (August 4, 1957). "Western: Roundup". New York Times. p. BR11.
  4. ^ "Entertainment: Barbara Eden Forms Own Film Company". Los Angeles Times. September 4, 1962. p. C13.
  5. ^ a b Scheuer, Philip K. (August 13, 1967). "The One-Man Revolt in Hollywood". Los Angeles Times. p. c14.
  6. ^ Martin, Betty (July 7, 1966). "Film Shapes Up for Beatles". Los Angeles Times. p. c15.
  7. ^ Martin, Betty (June 24, 1966). "Kirk Douglas Will Produce and Star". Los Angeles Times. p. c13.
  8. ^ "Hope, Diller Team for 'Lam'". Los Angeles Times. July 18, 1966. p. c25.
  9. ^ "'The War Wagon' Rolls in Mexico". Los Angeles Times. October 9, 1966. p. B13.
  10. ^ Goldstein, Richard (February 5, 1967). "THE LAST COWBOY SAINT: "Marion Michael Morrison is an old man...but when he bellows you know he's still John Wayne" COWBOY SAINT". Los Angeles Times. p. a20.
  11. ^ Thomas, Kevin (August 29, 1967). "A Hard Ride to Top of Western Heap: BURT KENNEDY". Los Angeles Times. p. d1.
  12. ^ Dell Movie Classic: The War Wagon at the Grand Comics Database
  13. ^ Dell Movie Classic: The War Wagon at the Comic Book DB (archived from the original)
  14. ^ Ebert, Roger (June 1, 1967). "The War Wagon". Retrieved March 21, 2018.

External linksEdit