John Wayne found himself increasingly isolated from the dominant trends of the film industry by the early seventies. He said at the time, "The men who control the big studios today are stock manipulators and bankers. They know nothing about our business. They're in it for the buck." He was also appalled by what he felt to be the moral degradation of films during that period, with their increasingly explicit sex, violence and profanity. During this time he worked through his own long-established production company, Batjac, allowing him a great degree of control over the final product. Thus, Wayne vehicles such as True Grit (1969), The Train Robbers (1973) and Cahill, U.S. Marshal (1973) are relatively mild Westerns for the era and continue to play up Wayne's heroic, individualistic image. They also make self-conscious, frequently comic asides about Wayne's advancing years and increasing physical frailty. In The Train Robbers Wayne rebuffs Ann-Margret's attentions, saying, "I've got a saddle that's older than you are." Wayne evidently knew what his fans wanted; his Westerns continued to be popular with audiences, particularly True Grit, for which Wayne earned an Academy Award for Best Actor, and its sequel Rooster Cogburn (1975).
Director Burt Kennedy (1922-2001) made his career in the Western, getting his start as the screenwriter for such Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott vehicles as Seven Men From Now (1956), The Tall T (1957) and Ride Lonesome (1959). In the 1960s, he started to direct his own films, most notably Return of the Seven (1966) - a sequel to The Magnificent Seven (1960) - and the Western spoof Support Your Local Sheriff (1969). With the decline of the Western as a Hollywood film genre, he shifted to directing television film Westerns and later co-wrote the screenplay for Clint Eastwood's White Hunter, Black Heart (1990).
For co-star Ann-Margret, 1972 was a difficult time in her life. Earlier in the year, she was seriously injured while performing onstage in her Lake Tahoe show, necessitating physical therapy. In addition, the extensive horseback riding required by the script meant that she had to overcome her fear of horses. Before shooting began, she took riding lessons from Chuck Hayward, a stuntman known for his horsemanship. Wayne also offered her moral support. Ann-Margaret recalls: "Duke was still a strong, rugged, formidable man, larger-than-life and incredibly personal. He was a big teddy bear, and we got along famously. Duke gave me the confidence I lacked." John Wayne himself fractured two ribs shortly before shooting began, causing such pain that he had difficulty sleeping at night. As a result, the action scenes had to be scaled down to accommodate his condition, but the tough-minded actor refused to delay the shoot, displaying the same determination and sense of personal integrity which distinguished his on-screen persona.
Producer: Michael Wayne
Director: Burt Kennedy
Screenplay: Burt Kennedy
Production Design: Alfred Sweeney
Cinematography: William H. Clothier
Film Editing: Frank Santillo
Original Music: Dominic Frontiere
Principal Cast: John Wayne (Lane), Ann-Margret (Mrs. Lowe), Rod Taylor (Grady), Ben Johnson (Jesse), Christopher George (Calhoun), Bobby Vinton (Ben Young), Jerry Gatlin (Sam Turner), Ricardo Montalban (The Pinkerton man).
C-92m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by James Steffen