Rio Lobo (1970)
After the Civil War, a Union Colonel (John Wayne) joins forces with two young confederates to both bring to justice a Union traitor and a ruthless land-owner intent on buying up the town of Rio Lobo…..
Howard Hawks’s last film basically uses a number of plot devices to hurdle itself toward a finale similar to that of his earlier masterpiece “Rio Bravo” (1959). Once again, Wayne and two other characters; one a young confederate soldier (Christopher – son of Robert – Mitchum) and the other an elderly trigger-happy lunatic (Jack Elam); find themselves walled-up in a small town jail about to embark on a dangerous hostage-exchange…….
Jerry Goldsmith’s fantastic soundtrack and Jack Elam’s crazed performance are real knock-outs in a film which although no classic, is a little under-rated. Certainly, Hawks’s most violent and bloody western it nevertheless feels a little old-fashioned. The film echoes themes of loyalty and of pulling a community together, despite historic differences, against a common-foe. You can’t help noticing that the confederates are painted as a down-to-earth honest bunch whilst the Union are out to fleece everyone around them….Wayne being the exception.
The opening credits are done very well and the first 15 minutes of the film concerns the robbery of a train carrying a shipment of Union gold. This scene is one my favourites in any western, where the johnny rebs attack not with guns but with a hornet’s nest…….. but from there on the film does drag in parts and isn’t helped by the lacklustre support offered by Jorge Rivero as the confederate Cavalry Captain and Wayne’s side-kick for most of the picture. Christopher Mitchum isn’t much better either. The next eye-popping scene is probably the finale – very similar to “Rio Bravo” (1959) except for it’s the villains with the dynamite this time – which inevitably moves me to the awkward conclusion that this is just a run-of-the-mill John Wayne movie sandwiched between two elaborate set-piece sequences…..somehow though, watching this film makes you feel that it is something a little more.
Some of the director’s hallmarks are evident throughout the movie. Women play a pivotal role (note the final sequence) – as in many of his movies – although the female lead seems to switch characters half-way through the movie whilst the dialogue and scripting is as natural as it comes. In fact, it seems that quite a few scripted lines were inserted tongue-in-cheek just to play on Wayne’s age and acting-talents – “If you were a better actor…” as well as “he’s heavier than a baby-whale” spring to mind. Wayne the actor is old in this movie and there’s no getting around that for Wayne the characer either. At times his stunt-double is blatantly obvious. Yet, Wayne comes across as more fatherly and a touch more darkly humorous than in some of his earlier works. Hawks obviously realised that there was no point having Wayne chase the ladies in this movie and his character has no love interest either – a relief for the viewer.
The exterior shots and camera pans are beautiful and it’s a good job they are because most of the film takes place in the open country-side not in the town as in “Rio Bravo” (1959).
All in all, it’s nowhere near Hawks’s best but it’s a tribute to him that his average movies were still a notch-above most of the output of the industry.
hotdog rating: 6.5/10