Friday, September 16, 2011

Rio Lobo

Howard Hawkes directed many great films; unfortunately, Rio Lobo is not one of them. This 1970 movie, starring John Wayne and Jorge Rivera, also includes Robert Donner (Preacher in Never Trust an Honest Man, Nate in The Bounty Hunter, and Charlie Taylor in The Day the Amnesty Came Through), who can be recognized by his voice, though not the white hair of his character, and Jack Elam (Boot Coby in Bad Night in Big Butte) in small roles, as well as Boyd “Red” Morgan (Augie Helms in The Fifth Victim) in an uncredited role as a train engineer. There are three female co-stars and since they all look alike, it is hard to tell them apart.

Rio Lobo opens with scenes of gold being loaded onto a train by Union soldiers during the Civil War. It is intercepted by Confederate soldiers in a daring and well-planned train robbery, which is the best part of the movie. Wayne, playing a Union colonel, vows to recover the gold and leads a troop of soldiers in search of it. However, he is captured by the rebels though ultimately he escapes and the rebels are the ones who are subsequently captured and spend the rest of the war in a prisoner of war camp.

When the war ends, the colonel seeks out the Confederate captain, played by Rivera, and his sidekick because he wants to know who gave the rebels information about the gold. The rest of Rio Lobo deals with how the three of them find the man who betrayed the Union and what they do with him and his supporters, as they have taken over a town and run it like their personal fiefdom.

The women’s dialog is very 1970s and it is jarring to hear them speak that way. In my opinion, Jennifer O’Neill, who plays one of the roles, overacts most of her scenes. But in one of them, she faints and when she revives, she finds that she’s been undressed and is in a hotel bed. When she asks who took her clothes off, Rivera’s character says they—meaning him and Wayne’s character--flipped a coin and he won, which reminded me of the scene in The Clementine Ingredient where Heyes and Kid flip a coin over who is going to pretend to marry Clementine.

The music soundtrack in Rio Lobo sounds very 1970s--very modern—and out of place. In many scenes where there is fighting, that also looks fake—the punches that are thrown are obviously not real. In the second half of the movie, the action takes place in a sheriff’s office and is very reminiscent of Rio Bravo, which in my opinion was a far better movie. During the climax, a couple rifles and pistols are submerged in water but, miraculously, can still shoot with no difficulty.

Perhaps one reason I had a hard time sitting through this one hour and fifty-four minute film was because it ostensibly took place in Texas yet was filmed at Old Tucson Studios (and in Mexico) and I recognized the scenery and some of the sets from having twice visited there, adding to the sense of unreality of Rio Lobo.