Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
"The War Wagon" is 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.
His success here raises the question, What was old Duke waiting for, anyway? Wayne has exhausted the possibilities in those noble movies where he plays the archetype of Western Civilization. Ever since he gave Chill Wills that pompous speech about What My Country Means to Me in "The Alamo" (1960) ("It kinda makes a choke come into ma throat"), he hasn't been the same.
But now Duke's back in form, playing the leader of a band out to capture the War Wagon. He hitches up with an old enemy (Kirk Douglas) and a crew of assorted castaways to capture an armored wagon protected by a Gatling Gun and 32 guards.
The elaborate wagon itself is one of the film's top attractions even though, every time it rattles onto the screen Dimitri Tiomkin bursts into a theme that sounds like "Clang, Clang, Clang Goes the Trolley" played backwards.