So we’re back to that question: which is best? It really all depends on your mood, with El Dorado having a more comedic slant, in common with Wayne’s work in the ‘60s, while Rio Bravo works on the viewer’s emotions. Both are classics but Rio Bravo came first and that counts for a lot.
The War Wagon (1967)
This is another ‘60s western that never fails to entertain. The war wagon of the title is a horse-drawn armoured car with a Gatling gun mounted on top and Wayne and his mismatched team have an elaborate plan to rob it of its shipment of gold. That’s right, this is a heist movie, sort of The Italian Job on horseback.
Being a Wayne film though, this can’t just be an ordinary robbery, there has to be a reason behind it. Taw Jackson (Wayne) has had his ranch stolen and done time in jail (we’re never fully clued up on why) and now he’s out to get even. The gold in the war wagon is from his land and he’s going to get it back. This is Wayne doing his regular western hero, always fun to watch but nothing spectacular. It’s the sort of performance he gave a lot during the decade and what boosted it here (as was often the case) was having someone with an equal star status to play off.
All the westerns I’ve picked from the ‘60s so far have one thing in common — they all pair Wayne with a big name co-star and this one is no different. Kirk Douglas plays the flamboyant Lomax and it’s a part tailor-made for him. The complete opposite of Wayne’s western persona, Lomax is all about what you see. He wears fancy clothes, including a leather shirt and one glove (maybe Michael Jackson’s a fan), never mounts his horse in conventional fashion, instead leaping aboard (you’re never in any doubt that it really is Douglas doing the stunt), even his female companions are exotic.
Wayne and Douglas were polar opposites and that comes across in their performances. Jackson and Lomax aren’t friends, in fact Lomax has been offered money to kill Jackson with only the chance of a bigger payday stopping him, but the pair do have a mutual respect for one another and I think the same was true of the actors who played them. Douglas certainly seems to be having fun, doing his utmost to upstage Wayne.