John Wayne Pushed Through Some Serious Pain To Keep The Train Robbers' Schedule On Track

John Wayne is known for his roles as a stoic man of the Wild West. He played many a jaded and well-seasoned cowboy, so it should come as no shock that his true nature was also quite tough. He developed a reputation for doing his own stunts in his action-heavy movies, at a time when everything relied on practical effects. The Hollywood legend pushed his body to physical extremes to deliver a lifetime of memorable performances.

Perhaps the greatest example of Wayne's ability to test his limits was on the set of the 1973 film "The Train Robbers." Wayne stars as Lane, the ring-leader of a group of cowboys that set out in search of a train robber responsible for stealing a young woman's inheritance. The men are incentivized by her hefty reward offer, but find trouble along the way in the form of bandits and a mysterious stranger.

The odyssey-like plot of "The Train Robbers" implies lots of opportunities for active scenes like chases and shootouts. However, Wayne suffered an injury just prior to filming that caused them to redirect the film to more closely focus on character development and dialogue rather than violence and movement. Even with these changes, though, the film still required a certain level of stunt work from its highest-billed actor. This required the Duke (as he was often called) to put himself through immense physical strain.

An injury wouldn't stop him

Wayne broke two ribs just a few days prior to shooting "The Train Robbers," according to the biography "Duke" authored by Ronald L. Davis. Davis writes that the actor suffered from "excruciating pain" that kept him up at night. Still, he "wanted the action scenes to look believable" rather than try to cut around his limitations. Not one to rely on movie magic, Wayne would typically do stunts himself in his films, and was not afraid to get "scratched, bruised, or otherwise battered during a film," his wife Pilar Wayne (formerly Pallete) said.

Pilar kept a watchful eye on her husband's health, advising him to listen to his doctors and quit smoking cigarettes. Wayne couldn't manage to kick the habit altogether, but he did pare himself down to two a day during the "Train Robbers" shoot. His wife was understanding of his nature, though. "He wasn't a crybaby," she told The L.A. Times, "he could tolerate pain." Pilar seems to echo Wayne's stoic philosophy towards pain here, proving just how compatible they truly were. 

Broken ribs barely slowed him down

Wayne pushed through his severe injury whenever possible, hoping to keep as close to the original plan for the film as his body allowed. For the most part, he managed to do so, although his movement was inevitably restricted somewhat by the rib fractures. His co-star Rod Taylor remembers Wayne as being "slightly" ill during the shoot, often struggling to keep his balance and peeling away to catch some shut-eye (via Express). Consequently, his action scenes were scaled down a bit to account for his injury.

Despite his limitations, Wayne still delivered an incredible performance. "The Train Robbers" is a forgotten entry in Wayne's canon, but it was one of his last roles before his death in 1979 and therefore marks one of the last of Hollywood's most iconic cowboy's trips to the West. The actor's commitment to his roles never wavered, even as his health declined, making him a true legend of the silver screen.