Among the great Howard Hawks` westerns, it tends to be Red River, Rio Bravo and El Dorado which are (rightly) lauded, while this final Hawks film is simply overlooked or damned with faint praise. This is a shame as I`ve always loved Rio Lobo, not as some kind of last gasp but as a superb `Civil War western` in its own right.
Wayne is at his most relaxed, in the role of a Yankee colonel in the dying days of the war, who - after the event - befriends two young Confederates guerillas, played well by Jorge Rivera and fresh-faced Chris (son of Robert) Mitchum. The plot has them hook up, against their will, with a feisty, flirty young girl played with an enthusiasm which excuses her gaucheness as an actress, by Jennifer O`Neill. Then they all set off for the terrorised town of Rio Lobo to seek out a traitor from the war, and generally clean up the place. Watching Wayne `clean up the place` is a cathartic delight, let me tell you.
Jack Elam is endlessly watchable as a grizzled old loner - who helps them - with an itchy trigger finger and a taste for whisky.
Hawks was a director who loved to portray a group of disparate people with a shared goal, not always seeing eye to eye but respecting each other`s professionalism or merely accepting each other`s flaws.
This might not be as tightly constructed as Rio Bravo, or as great a film as Red River, but it`s a rare treat all the same. There are some nice gags at the expense of the Duke`s age (he was 63 by now, with only a decade to live with the cancer that ravaged his mighty frame) and he himself gives one of his most genial and avuncular performances, as if he`s watching over the impetuous youngsters in his care. He takes mock-offense at being called `comfortable` by Shasta (the O`Neill character) and the final line of the film revives the joke.
I love Rio Lobo, sometimes more than I love Rio Bravo, which can seem a little too neat and wrapped-up. Hawks - who never received the slightest acknowledgement from the Academy for his consistently brilliant work in several genres - made endlessly enjoyable films, and was quite obviously a wise and good director of actors. You can tell they tended to trust him just by watching the films.
Rio Lobo is the swansong of a uniquely great director. Those who`ve awarded this film a measly two, or even three, stars must be either crazy or - well, let`s leave it at crazy.
The biggest recommendation I can give is that I watch this film regularly, and it never disappoints or seems stale.