Thursday, September 15, 2016
Rio Lobo (Howard Hawks, 1970)
Red River (1948). The sequence is also the best thing in the film. What follows feels for the most part tired, derivative, and poorly cast, which is a shame, since it was Hawks's last film. We'd all like our favorite directors to go out on a high note, but it seldom happens: There aren't many who regard Alfred Hitchcock's Family Plot (1976), Billy Wilder's Buddy Buddy (1981), or John Ford's 7 Women (1966) as sufficiently valedictory achievements, either. Still, Rio Bravo has its moments, most of them supplied by old pros like John Wayne and Jack Elam. It has cinematography by the masterly William H. Clothier and a score by Jerry Goldsmith. What it doesn't have is a competent supporting cast, particularly in the key roles played by Jorge Ribero and Jennifer O'Neill. Ribero's success in Mexican films, combined with his good looks, led Hollywood to give him a try, but he's out of his depth as a foil for Wayne and is obviously uncomfortable in his second language. O'Neill, a former model, is the last in the line of "Hawksian women" whose ability to stand up to men gave a certain bright tension to his films, and who were previously embodied by the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Jean Arthur, Rosalind Russell, and Lauren Bacall. But when O'Neill flubs an attempt to match Wayne at Hawks's characteristic overlapping repartee, it's clear that the game is over. O'Neill's character virtually disappears from the later part of the film, and the climactic scene is given to another character played by Sherry Lansing, who at least recognized her limitations as an actress and gave it up to become a film studio executive. Rio Lobo, a more or less acknowledged semi-remake of Rio Bravo (1959) and its remake, El Dorado (1966), is not without its rewards for those who relish old-style Westerns, but coming from an era when Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah were reinventing the genre it feels like a sad anachronism.