Rio Lobo – 1970
Review by John Rouse Merriott Chard
Don’t say comfortable eh?
Out of Paramount Pictures, Rio Lobo is directed and produced by Howard Hawks (the last film he would direct) and stars John Wayne, Jorge Rivero, Jeniffer O’Neill, Jack Elam & Christopher Mitchum. It’s written by Leigh Brackett & Burton Wohl, musically scored by Jerry Goldsmith and photographed by William H. Clothier on location at Cuernavaca, Mexico & Tuscon, Arizona. It’s the third film in a loose trilogy by Hawks & Wayne that follows Rio Bravo (1959) & El Dorado (1966). Plot follows Wayne as Union officer Cord McNally who loses gold shipments (via the railway) to Confederate guerrillas led by Pierre Cordona (Rivero) & Tuscarora Phillips (Mitchum). It’s the start of a relationship that will see all parties end up in Rio Lobo, Texas, where a traitor and a despotic sheriff are in their midst.
Rio Lobo is easily the weakest Western that Hawks made with Duke Wayne. He himself would say that he didn’t like the film, felt it wasn’t any good, while Wayne himself was quoted as saying that he had already made the film twice before. Almost everything about Rio Lobo is tired, from the formula of the story to Wayne sleepwalking thru a role that held no challenge, it’s a poor send off for one of America’s finest directors. The script is solid enough, with many Hawksian themes evident; and it’s nice to see the three lady characters be important to the story, but the cast put around Wayne are poor and out of their depth and this rubs off on the normally professional Wayne who finds he has nothing to act off of.
It’s not a total stinker, tho, certainly Clothier’s photography and Goldsmith’s score are worthy of investing time with, and the lead off sequence involving the train robbery is well put together and stirs the adrenalin. Sadly the film is never able to reach those heights again, with the ending being a rather tame affair that doesn’t do justice to the bitter revenge tone that Hawks has steered the film towards. Of the sub-standard support cast there’s only Jack Elam who is worth watching, be it for comedy value or for just giving it some gusto. All told the film just about comes out as watchable Sunday afternoon fodder. A running theme in the film sees fun poked at the ageing Wayne’s expense, one of which involves the word comfortable. That is an apt word to use for Rio Lobo, because director and star are in the comfort zone, comfortably making an unchallenging and old hat movie. 5/10