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The Train Robbers (1973)

Rod Taylor plays Grady, one of the old buddies that John Wayne calls upon to help recover some hidden gold.

Writer/director Burt Kennedy specialized in Westerns with a comic touch. Here he set a mood of amiable adventure among colorful, well-drawn characters -- and winds it all up with a surprise ending.

Ann-Margret stars as Mrs. Lowe, a widow who wishes to recover some gold her late husband stole from a bank. She says she wants to return it and clear her family name.

She persuades Lane (John Wayne) to ride into Mexico with her and recover the loot, which is hidden in a train engine laying on its side in the desert. Lane recruits help, including longtime compadres and fellow Civil War veterans Grady (Rod Taylor) and Jesse (Ben Johnson). The young guns were played by Bobby Vinton and Christopher George.

Once they cross the border, however, they discover two very different pursuers: a large group of bandits and a Pinkerton Agent (Ricardo Montalban).

After recovering the gold, Lane and his friends decide to let Mrs. Lowe keep the reward money -- $50,000. Lane is told that the gesture was touching but... the woman wasn't who she said she was.

Rod's best scenes are a couple he shares with Ben Johnson, as the two old friends bond with their memories and at their chagrin at growing older.

The New York Times noted these performances:

The cast is for the most part quite lovely, led by a gentle Wayne, too old for romance but not for regrets, and well supported ... in fine restrained performance by Ben Johnson and Rod Taylor.

Variety magazine reviewed this movie as...

An above-average John Wayne actioner, written and directed by Burt Kennedy with suspense, comedy and humanism not usually found in the formula. ... Kennedy has provided a series of rich, deep individual characterizations, plus some intriguing red-herring plot twists.

ROD AND DUKE

The friendship between Rod Taylor and John Wayne started about a decade before "The Train Robbers." 

As Rod tells it in the documentary, "Pulling No Punches":

I was invited to dinner at Duke Wayne's when he lived in the Valley. And he was going to make a movie with Dean Martin, who also became a good friend. And I went over and it was a lovely kind of 'in group' of guys who liked each other, and I was allowed into the group and suddenly felt very much at home.

Dukeís wife, Pilar, recalls a scene at their home in Encino, California, in about 1963 (in "John Wayne: My life with the Duke," by Pilar Wayne with Alex Thorleifson):

Duke called one afternoon to announce that Taylor would be our guest for dinner that night. The meal was a convivial affair with lots of storytelling. Ö I retired at a reasonable hour, leaving the two men to their drinks and conversation. To my surprise they were still at it when I got up the next morning. Our familyís activities swirled around them all day as they continued drinking and talking.

Taylor stayed for supper that night, and once again I retired early. The next morning Duke and Taylor were still at it, drinking and talking, and, again, they kept it up all day. I didnít even need to ask if Taylor would stay for dinner that night Ė we just set and extra plate. The marathon conversation ended that night while I slept. When I woke up in the morning Duke was in bed beside me in an exhausted sleep.

Those three days were typical of Duke. When he met someone he liked, he just had to know everything about them Ė immediately.

As Rod is apt to say about friends, colleagues and leading ladies, "We fell in love like a couple of drunken sailors." (And he did say that about Wayne, in a 1998 interview for "60 Minutes" in Australia.)

"I didnít feel that I would fit with him comfortably, but we immediately liked each other," Rod told biographer Scott Eyman in an interview for "John Wayne: The Life and Legend."

Rod may have felt hesitation because of Wayneís stature compared with his own at the time. Or it may have been Wayne's notorious political stances. But as he told Scott Eyman, Taylor found that you didnít have to be conservative to be well-regarded by Duke:

I would call him and Old Nazi, and he didnít care. He didnít change his mind about anything, but he didnít care because he didnít have rules or regulations about who was entitled to be his friend.

One thing perplexed him, though. "He loved Nixon," Rod said. "Jesus, how do you do that? Reagan I can understand, but Nixon?"

Politics may not have come between the two men, but poker surely did.

Christopher George, Rod Taylor and John Wayne
playing cards on the set of "The Train Robbers."

A LOSING HAND

"Dukeís great joy in life was to beat the shit out of me in poker," Rod told author Scott Eyman. "I never truly won."

Duke's joy was on display during a 1975 Australian edition of "This is Your Life" devoted to Rod Taylor. Host Mike Willesee introduced family and old friends who paid tribute to Rod, including a taped message from John Wayne back in the U.S. Duke gave a heartfelt message, praising Rod as a good actor and a fine human being. But in closing, he called out, "When it comes to playing poker -- Rod, don't stay away too long!"

Murray Neidorf, Rodís business manager, acknowledged that Rod is good at a lot of things Ė but playing cards is not one of them.

"Wayne hustled him in cards," Neidorf said in an interview for "Pulling No Punches." He recalled a time when Rod told him, "You gotta write a check to John Wayne for $2,000." Neidorf was livid, but sent the check. "The beautiful thing about Wayne," Neidorf said, "he never cashed the check."

That was the good news about Rodís losing. Rod paid his debts, but Wayne seemed only in it for the bragging rights.

"One of the last times I was at his house [in Newport, California], I was looking at this monstrous wall of trophies and honorary diplomas,Ē Rod told Scott Eyman. "It was an enormous display, and on the bottom was a line of my uncashed checks, nicely framed, from all of our poker games."

While telling the story in "Pulling no Punches," Rod said Wayne would point, with emphasis, "That's from Taylor. ... He loved it!"

Plenty of poker was played behind the scenes on the set of "The Train Robbers," with cards and cash (liar's poker). A September 1972 issue of Coronet magazine described the scene in Rodís trailer:

Duke Wayne had joined the party and everybody was playing liarís poker. Taylor glanced at the assembly [Bobbie Vinton, Jerry Gatlin, John Wayne]. "There are some of Hollywoodís greatest liars sitting here right now," he laughed.

Then-Gov. Ronald Reagan looks on as Rod Taylor addresses John Wayne during the Headliner of the Year Award, 1970.

HEADLINER

Rod Taylor was one of the celebrities who "roasted" John Wayne at the Greater Los Angeles Press Club's Ninth Annual Headliner Award Banquet. More than 1,000 people attended the event in the International Ballroom at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on June 3, 1970.

The Headliner Award is presented each year to a California man or woman chosen by the Board of Directors of the Greater Los Angeles Press Club as the outstanding newsmaker of the year. A couple of months prior to the event, Wayne had won the Oscar as Best Actor for his performance in "True Grit."

In addition to Rod, the entertainers included Glen Campbell, Ricardo Montalban, Rod Taylor, Claire Trevor, Ray Bolger, Lorne Green, Jonathan Winters and Pat Buttram. Former Headliners in attendance included Gov. Ronald Reagan (and wife Nancy), former Gov. Edmund G. Brown, U.S. Senator George Murphy, Mayor Sam Yorty.

 

 

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LINKS

IMDb // Wikipedia

Turner Classic Movies

Ann-Margret show: Rod's appearance in film clip

Pressbook items (PDF)

The last of the Hollywood hell-raisers: Coronet magazine, September 1972 (PDF)

Roger Ebert review

 

VIEWER'S GUIDE

DVD on Amazon.com

Trailer on YouTube

Film clips on YouTube:
Introducing Mrs. Lowe

Film clips on YouTube

 

   

Wayne Train (1973)

Rod Taylor appeared in this promotional film for "The Train Robbers," which is included on the DVD edition of the movie. It also features director Burt Kennedy as well as John Wayne, Ann-Margret and Ben Johnson. 

The segment features behind-the-scenes and on-screen footage.

 

 

 

 

         
   

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