The Train Robbers, poster, US poster art, second from right: Ann-Margret, far right: John Wayne, 1973. (Photo by LMPC via Getty Images)
Movies - TV
The Train Robbers Was A Canary In The Coal Mine For The Death Of John Wayne Westerns
By the time Burt Kennedy’s 1973 “The Train Robbers” was released, the Western genre’s dominance in popular culture was being challenged, and the old Hollywood film structure began to fade in favor of grittier, film-school styles of storytelling, like “The Godfather.” The makers of “The Train Robbers” knew that classic Westerns were outdated but tried to outrun their fate by underspending.
“The Train Robbers” had a mid-level budget of $4.6 million, with the movie’s star, John Wayne, only being guaranteed a salary of $200,000. William H. Clothier, the cinematographer who worked with Wayne since 1955, expressed his growing fatigue from his work, saying, “I like turkey, I have it at Thanksgiving and New Year’s but I don’t want it seven days a week.”
Wayne also experienced similar fatigue, as the actor hadn’t been happy making movies for several years due to the demanding early hours and his ill health. The film’s producer and son of the legendary actor, Michael Wayne, did his best to make it entertaining, saying, “I worked very hard on ‘The Train Robbers’ to try to make it into something, when basically the story wasn’t that good.”
While the film made enough money to cover the cost of production, “The Train Robbers” ultimately lost Warner Bros. $7.6 million. “The Exorcist” was released the same year, making $82 million, and the year before, “The Godfather” pulled in $86 million; it was clear that Westerns had fallen in popularity, and a new generation of filmmakers were more appealing to moviegoers.