Thursday, October 2, 2014

I could have SWORN there was a Wind Wagon!

When I was a kid--not sure how old--I watched a Western (or part of a Western) on TV. What stuck in my mind was the Wind Wagon, a wagon that forgoes horses and instead mounts a sail, using wind
power to cross the prairies.

Now that's cool. It's what made me remember the movie--or at least the beginning of it. I remembered a naive Easterner traveling west. I remembered him meeting a sea captain who talked about his Wind Wagon. I remember the two traveling together, only to be jumped by outlaws and win only after a desperate fight. I couldn't remember the rest of the movie, either because I wasn't able to watch it or because it didn't feature the Wind Wagon and therefore wasn't as memorable.

For many years, I wanted to see that film again. When Google became a thing, I would occasionally think about it and try searching. But I never could identify it. 

As it turns out, I wasn't using the correct search terms. Because, darn it, there's no Wind Wagon in the movie!

There is a former sea captain (played by Fuzzy Knight) who traveled to a remote Western town in a Wind Wagon and he does describe the vehicle quite vividly. In fact, he eventually produces a drawing of it. The idea of one day rebuilding the wagon is thematically used as symbol of hope throughout the film.

But the Wind Wagon itself never actually appears. In all likelihood, this film was my first exposure to the idea of a Wind Wagon and I found the idea so awesome that I eventually inserted one into my memory of the film.

The movie is The Bounty Killer (1965), staring Dan Duryea as the naive Easterner, named Willy
Duggans. He's traveling west to start a new life. When he ends up in a rough mining town without much money left, he takes the dangerous job of delivering payrolls to the mines. He's accompanied by Captain Luther, the former Wind Wagon owner. 

When they are jumped by outlaws, they manage to win the ensuing fight. Duggans earns $250 for killing the leader of the gang. By now, he's in love with a saloon girl, so he needs money to provide for her. He and Luther decide to try their hand at bounty hunting. And Duggans is fully intending to be a lawful bounty hunter. He'll bring his prey in alive whenever possible, killing only when forced to do so.

At first, they do surprisingly well. Duggans is inexperienced, but he's smart and has guts. He manages to get the drop on a gang leader named Mike Clayman. But when he and Luther attempt to bring Clayman back to town, the outlaw's men intercept them and tragedy ensues.

Now out for revenge more than money, Duggans designs a sawed-off shotgun rig he can wear in a pistol holster and is soon drastically cutting down the local outlaw population. But he no longer worries about bringing anyone alive. He plans to eventually give up this life and marry the girl, but its possible he's already gone too far to turn back.

It's a good, solid movie. Duryea was frankly too old for the role of Duggans, but he was an excellent actor and his descent from nice guy to ruthless killer is completely believable. Fuzzy Knight, who is best remembered for his many sidekick roles, is fun to watch as Captain Luther. 

A lot of older Western stars, such as Johnny Mack Brown and "Broncho Billy" Anderson, have cameos or small roles in the film, adding to the fun. Buster Crabbe is Mike Clayman--for those of us who think of him as Flash Gordon or Tarzan, it's fascinating to see the scary degree of ruthless brutality that he brings to the role. 

Crabbe's presence in the film leads to several nifty ironies. He and Knight co-starred together a decade earlier in the TV show Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion a decade earlier (Knight was, of course, the sidekick). So it's neat to see them on opposite sides of the law.

Also, one of Clayman's gang members is played by Bob Steele, another cowboy star from the '30s and '40s. Both Steele and Crabbe played Billy the Kid in a series of B-movies. Seeing them together, even briefly, is also pretty neat.

There's some good dialogue in the film as well, such as this example:

Duggans: But, ah, how do they grade men out here? Who fixes the price?

Luther: It depends on how much in demand their heads are, I reckon. The more you're wanted by the law, the higher the prices. It's like buying meat at the market, really. Except in here, it's the worst that gets the best price.

But there's no darn Wind Wagon in the movie. For years, I couldn't find it because I was looking for a movie with a Wind Wagon in it! Gee whiz.

Oh, well. I finally found it and watched it. So that's one more item off my list of Neat Things I Saw/Read as a Kid. I'm getting pretty close to getting caught up on that list.


  1. Like you, I watched this film as a kid and it stuck with me too, the wind wagon and the shotgun that could blast mulitble baddies. Great blog and thank you for the post.

    1. I also thought your blog was very good - a great read. It describes the process that is probably common to a lot of us when we try to extract and expand a nostalgic item stuck in our memory, as well as a commendable review of the movie.


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