Tuesday, May 3, 2022

#2,748. Rio Lobo (1970) - John Wayne in the 1970s


Rio Lobo marked the fifth and final time Howard Hawks directed John Wayne, and while this 1970 film isn’t nearly as strong as some of their previous collaborations (Red River, Rio Bravo), both actor and director do their part to make it a fun watch.

Union officer Col. Cord McNally (Wayne) is determined to track down a pair of traitors who passed along information to the Confederates, resulting in a gold heist that caused the death of a very good friend.

With the war over, McNally and his former enemy, Confederate Captain Pierre Cordona (Jorge Rivero), head to the small Texas town of Rio Lobo, where they believe the traitors might be hiding out. Instead, they find an entire community gripped with fear, victimized by a wealthy yet mysterious land baron and his corrupt sheriff (Mike Henry).

Still hopeful they will find the traitors, McNally and Cordona also take some time out to help the locals, including Shasta Delaney (Jennifer O’Neill), whose business partner was gunned down by one of the sheriff’s deputies; and Cordona’s former Confederate pal Sgt. Tuscarora Phillips (Christopher Mitchum), who along with his father (Jack Elam) is being forced off his land.

At times, Rio Lobo feels lighthearted, and even gets a little silly. Jack Elam’s drunken escapades, though over-the-top, still manage to generate some laughs, but the ill-conceived “romance” that develops (far too quickly) between Cordona and Shasta never goes anywhere, and results in a few awkward moments.

As for John Wayne, he’s… well, John Wayne! The legendary actor has played characters like McNally dozens of times (if not a hundred) over the course of his career, so he gives us exactly what we expect from him: a strong, brave, honest lead character who never backs down from a fight.

Not to be outdone, the director of Rio Lobo – equally as legendary as its star – kicks things off with a tremendously staged sequence, i.e. a train heist. Carried out during the waning days of the Civil War by Capt. Cordova, Sgt. Phillips, and the rest of their unit, they ride off with a small fortune in gold, only to be chased by Col. McNally and the rest of the Union army. This sequence, as well as the final shoot-out between the good guys and the bad, proved that, even in his mid 70s, Hawks could bring us to the edge of our seats.

So, even if Rio Lobo isn’t the best Hawks / Wayne collaboration, getting a chance to see these two powerhouses team up one last time, and generate a little Hollywood magic in the process, is reason enough to see it.
Rating: 7 out of 10

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