Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5.
USA/Mexico, 1970. Cinema Center Films, Malabar. Story by Burton Wohl, Screenplay by Burton Wohl, Leigh Brackett. Cinematography by William H. Clothier. Produced by Howard Hawks. Music by Jerry Goldsmith. Production Design by Robert Emmet Smith. Costume Design by Leah Rhodes. Film Editing by John Woodcock.
Howard Hawks returns to the plot of Rio Bravo for a third version (after El Dorado), and despite the fact that the Duke is looking a little worse for wear and the supporting cast isn’t up to snuff with the earlier films, Hawks directs with a verve late in his career that matches his earlier classics. This time the plot is set in motion when Confederate soldiers rob a train carrying funds for the Northern army right under Wayne’s nose. He captures and imprisons two of the men responsible for the robbery (Jorge Rivero, Christopher Mitchum), but the man he really wants is the soldier in his own outfit who was working as double agent. Following the war, Wayne remains friendly with his two prisoners and catches up with them later in Texas where he has gone in search of the traitor (or traitors, as the boys tell him it was actually two men he is looking for). No sooner does he arrive in a tiny Texas town than an angry Jennifer O’Neill storms in and tells the sheriff that a murder has been committed by a lawman in Rio Lobo, which just happens to be where Wayne was heading to reunite with Mitchum. Goals converge as Wayne’s getting involved in a local murder investigation turns out be connected to his wanting to close the case on his battle experience. Hawks wisely avoids dragging out his uninspired plot here, instead focusing on a series of terrific action sequences that help you forgive a lot of poor casting decisions. Mitchum, son of the great Robert, lacks charisma and Rivero lacks credibility (making him from New Orleans to justify his accent is silly), while O’Neill’s wooden performance threatens to sink the whole thing. Wayne, on the other hand, may be too old and bloated to be credible as a Civil War soldier and late-life action hero (with plenty of sequences obviously performed by stunt doubles), but the easy charm and confidence that made him a star has gone nowhere and Hawks wisely lets it bloom in the sequences not taken up by the exciting violence.