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Col. Cord McNally an ex union officer teams up with a couple of ex Johnny Rebs to search for the traitor who sold information to the South during the Civil War. Their quest brings them to the town of Rio Lobo where they help recover this little Texas town from ruthless outlaws who are led by the traitor they were looking for. Written by
Christopher D. Ryan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
John Wayne was in poor health during filming, and had great difficulty getting on and off his horse. See more »
Commonly thought as a mistake, (that Ketchum's pants don't show any scorch marks from the fire), Ketchum is shown buckling his belt on a different color pair of pants just as they get ready to leave. See more »
Seeing a John Wayne movie where Wayne himself is the most vital presence is normal for just about any film he was in. Seeing a John Wayne movie where he is the most accomplished and subtle actor on screen, the Olivier of the proceedings, is quite another, and just one of several reasons "Rio Lobo" sticks out in a bad way.
Wayne plays Union Col. Cord McNally, who after the end of the American Civil War is still after the traitors who sold information about U.S. Army gold shipments that led to the death of a beloved subordinate. McNally finds himself in the middle of a land grab involving two ex-Confederates who knew the traitors in question, and what's more, are now being oppressed by the same baddies in the Texas village of Rio Lobo. Former enemies join forces to see to the righting of a wrong.
Everything about this film is wrong from the start, from the opening titles where we see a guitar played totally out of sync with the tune on the soundtrack to a train robbery scene full of awkward exposition lines to alert us to the fact the train is carrying gold and is being waylaid by Confederates armed with grease and hornets. How Howard Hawks, director of some of Wayne's best films like "Rio Bravo" and "Red River" as well as some choice Hollywood classics, could have made this lame oater his swansong is a question almost existential in its bleakness.
Wayne's supporting actors make him seem Shakespearean by comparison. Future movie executive Sherry Lansing shows why she saved her best work for behind the camera as a vengeful senorita, while Jorge Rivero just seems hideously miscast as an Omar Sharif wanna-be playing the Confederate commander Col. McNally first clashes against, then joins sides with. Apparently he is one of those Confederate officers who talks like Desi Arnez or Fernando Lamas. Bracing for a train crash, he yells to his men: "You better find yourself a place with a good hold," but the way he says it makes you think he's in a New Orleans cathouse.
All this is by way of introducing Jennifer O'Neill's terrible turn as the lead female in this production, Shasta Delaney. To see her is to reconsider every supposed movie actor you have labeled "bad" in movies. A woman of rare beauty who leans on her looks all too much, O'Neill is always brushing her hair away from her face and sounding much like the high school homecoming queen drafted in a Shakespearean tragedy. Listening to her say simple lines like "Don't be nice to me" is grating in its banality, not to mention a dunning reminder of how competent Joanne Dru really was playing the lead hottie in the Hawks film "Red River" nearly 25 years before, when she actually managed to carry entire scenes with real dramatic purpose and charm. Its not that Hawks stopped using his casting couch, perchance, just that his standards had slipped so in the interim.
Ah, yes, then there's Wayne, stolid, boring, inert, yet the only thing that keeps us going from scene to scene. He can be so great in many different films; that's what makes him such a joy to follow, and though he's so dull in this one, it's not all his fault.
There's a moment, for example, near the beginning, when someone asks him about a comrade in danger, about how long McNally served with the fellow, and McNally replies: "Since the war began." The way Wayne says it, just the aching delivery in his voice, recalls a succession of battlefields, and you realize how powerful an actor Wayne could be without even trying. I can't really blame him for showing up for work when Hawks asked him to. I imagine on his second day on the set with O'Neill and the English-impaired Rivero, he just thought of all the good work Hawks had sent his way before and remembered that Oscar keeping his bed warm back in his trailer. Wayne's not great, but he's good enough for the lameness around him, which is enough.
So are Christopher Mitchum, Susana Dosamantes, and David Huddleston as a would-be sadistic dentist who pretends to give McNally a thorough going-over while imparting some vital information toward the resolution of the plot, sending him off with a nasty novocain shot and the line: "If you'd have been a good enough actor, I wouldna used it!" Wayne was a good sport to let himself get zinged that way, but the truth be told, he's the least of the problem as far as "Rio Lobo" is concerned.
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