Quite possibly John Wayne’s least distinguished ’70s Western, The Train Robbers is so enervated that easily one-quarter of the film’s brisk running time is consumed by aimless montages of posses riding across rough terrain. These sequences of horses and riders plodding across deserts or pounding through rivers are pleasant enough, with composer Dominic Frontiere’s lively music complementing lyrical imagery, but after a while it becomes apparent that writer-director Burt Kennedy failed to generate enough plot to sustain a feature film. The overall narrative of the picture is okay, a standard-issue quest involving rough men hired by a lady to recover stolen gold, and there are enough flashes of action and character interplay to more or less justify the movie’s existence. Yet it’s a measure of The Train Robbers’ shortcomings that the closest thing the picture has to a villain is poor Ricardo Montalban, who shows up every 20 minutes or so to glower at Wayne’s gang from a distance, puff on a cigar, and stand still while the image dissolves to another scene; Montalban doesn’t even speak until the very end of the movie. Equally malnourished is the flick’s love-story component, and not just because the gigantic, aging Wayne looks ridiculous when sharing the frame with tiny, young Ann-Margret. The flirtation between the leads comprises the Duke admiring Ann-Margret’s figure and spitfire personality (which is discussed but never really demonstrated) and Ann-Margret, in turn, batting her eyelashes during cringe-inducing interludes such as an unconvincing drunk scene. But, as with so many latter-day Wayne movies, The Train Robbers is really about mythologizing the Wayne persona. In one laughable moment, ornery sidekick Calhoun (Christopher George) is asked what’s wrong with Wayne’s character: Calhoun’s response, delivered with vaguely homoerotic glee? “Not a damn thing!” Alas, such a kind appraisal cannot be made of The Train Robbers, which, it should be noted, never actually features a train robbery. Even the presence of reliable cowboy-movie player Ben Johnson in a supporting role isn’t sufficient to make this one memorable.
The Train Robbers: FUNKY