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Film / Rio Lobo

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Rio Lobo is a 1970 American Western film directed by Howard Hawks and starring John Wayne. It was the last film directed by Hawks, from a script by Leigh Brackett.

At the tail-end of the Civil War Colonel Cord McNally (Wayne) finds himself pursuing a gang of Confederate guerrillas, led by Captain Pierre Cardona, who hijacked a train of gold and killed a friend of his. Through some trickery and a little bit of luck, he manages to capture Cardona and Sergeant Tuscarora Phillips, although neither man will reveal the Union traitor who has been helping them. Once the war has ended, however, the two feel humbled and more willing to talk, confirming that the Union traitor was motivated by greed. McNally convinces the men to tell him if they ever come across the traitor. When they do, McNally finds himself journeying to the town of Rio Lobo, where a criminal conspiracy is underway. He is joined by Cardona, and Shasta Delaney, the companion of a man who was shot by the criminals. The climax ends with him and his allies holed up with their prisoner, as his criminal associates lurk outside.

Wayne's castmates include fellow iconic western Actor Jack Elam as Old Man Phillips, Peter Jason as Lt. Forsythe, future 20th Century Studios president Sherry Lansing as Amelita, and Christopher Mitchum (who would later play the son of Wayne's character in Big Jake and whose father, Robert Mitchum, was Wayne's co-star in El Dorado) as Tuscarora Phillips.

It was the third Howard Hawks film with the idea of a sheriff defending his office against belligerent outlaw elements in the town, after Rio Bravo (1959) and El Dorado (1966), both also starring John Wayne, of which this film is effectively a (very) loose remake of.

This film contains examples of:

  • Action Prologue: The train robbery, which is often considered the most fast-paced and effect-heavy part of the film.
  • Affably Evil: Two of the henchmen staking out Old Man Phillips' ranch and threatening him through Tuscarora are fairly non-malicious when Shasta comes up in the medicine wagon, with one asking to have some of the whiskey in the back, and the other asking why she's came back and stopped running in a simple, curious fashion.
  • All for Nothing: Name-dropped by a frustrated Cardona once the South loses the war, in reference to the time he spent as a prisoner and the train robberies.
  • Bad Boss: Hendricks tries to shoot his own men when they decide, Screw This, I'm Outta Here.
  • Bedmate Reveal: There's a bit where McNally wakes, after sleeping under the stars, to find Shasta snuggled up to him, and his arm draped over her. His startled, "Hey! What's she doing here?" is quite funny. So is his irritation that she cuddled up to him because she thought it'd be safer than with either of the young studs in their group. Occasionally during the rest of the film he sarcastically describes himself as "comfortable," because that's how she had put it.
  • Bee-Bee Gun: Cardona's raiding party throw a hornets' nest into a train car carrying some Union soldiers and a large gold supply they were guarding. One of the Union soldiers even dies from injuries sustained by throwing himself out of the train to escape said bugs.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Shasta and Cardona start out this way, before it gets tenderer.
  • Bleed 'Em and Weep: Amelita shoots a corrupt sheriff repeatedly (and very coldly), then breaks down sobbing afterwards, making the point that enduring physical pain and overcoming the emotional trauma of killing someone are very different things.
  • Bond One-Liner: During the capturing of Ketcham, Old Man Phillips is assigned to take care of a man guarding the gate. When they ask him how that went:
    Old Man Phillips: Now he's at another Gate, looking for Saint Peter.
  • Brutal Honesty: McNally telling his friend Lieutenant Forsythe that his neck is broken after taking in his injures.
  • The Cavalry: Bide, the dentist and a lot of the other local ranchers arrive to help the heroes in the final shootout.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Tuscarora Phillips' skill with a Reed Snorkel.
  • Colonel Badass: McNally during the war.
  • Cryptic Background Reference: When Hendricks is first mentioned, McNally refers to him as "Blue Tom" and mentions chasing him several times but never capturing him, although whether this is refers to Hendricks being a Civil War guerrilla or a pre-war outlaw is never mentioned.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Shasta was married to an alcoholic gambler who left her a widow, forced to work as a saloon girl, and getting groped a lot. The man who offered her a job to get away from all of that, with no ulterior motive, ended up murdered by Whitey Carter.
  • Defiant Captive: McNally when he's a prisoner of the Confederates.
  • Depraved Dentist: Subverted, the local dentist is a good friend of the Phillips family and a reliable ally, although he does have to inflict some pain on McNally in order to fool some spies who were suspicious about his claims of coming into town to get his tooth pulled.
  • Determinator: McNally refuses to let a bullet to the hip keep him from pursuing Hendricks in the climax.
  • Deuteragonist: Cardona, who gets the main romantic subplot, plenty of good action scenes and about as much development and screen time as Wayne's character.
  • Dirty Coward: Ketcham is quick to kowtow to all of McNally and the others' orders as a prisoner.
  • Distressed Dude: Phillips spends a long time as a prisoner of the villains, and right after he's freed Cardona is captured for a while.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Hendricks is shot dead by Amelita, whose face he had slashed while looking for the heroes.
  • Dragon Ascendant: Hendricks guns down Ketcham after finding out that he signed over the deeds while a prisoner, and takes over trying to kill the heroes himself.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: Hendricks poses the main threat to the characters, displays the most ruthlessness of the villains, and is onscreen far more than his boss.
  • Dreadful Musician: Old Man Phillips plays the mouth harp, and he plays it badly enough to be bribed to stop.
  • Easily Forgiven: McNally tells Cardona that he doesn't blame him or his men for what happened to Lieutenant Forsythe, as it was an act of war. The traitor, on the other hand....
  • Everyone Looks Sexier if French: Cardona. When (in response to being nicknamed "Frenchie") he exasperatedly tells McNally that he's half Mexican too, McNally joking asks if it's the Mexican half that's been wooing Shasta.
  • Evil Laugh: Supposedly Hendricks gave one after scarring Amelita's face.
  • Fainting: Shasta does this after shooting Whitey, in her introductory scene.
  • Feminine Women Can Cook: Maria makes McNally, Shasta and Cardona some dinner when they arrive at her house.
  • Foreign-Language Tirade: Maria calls Ketcham a pig in Spanish after seeing the heroes holding him prisoner.
  • Frame-Up: Hendricks arrests Tuscarora for stealing his own horses in order to use him as a hostage to make his father sign over his ranch.
  • The Gambler: Cardona, who bet McNally before the war at a card game, with Cord holding him at gunpoint due to believing he'd cheated him by betting a lame horse.
  • Good Samaritan: Amelita, who takes Cardona hiding out at her house in stride (albeit with a little flirtation) and later goes to warn them about Hendricks sending men to search Maria's house.
  • Hand-or-Object Underwear: Amelita covers her breasts with her arms when Cardona breaks into her home to hide from Hendricks' men.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Twice in the climax. One Mook is possibly blown up by his own dynamite after being wounded as he threw it, causing it to fall short and Hendricks is badly injured by shrapnel when his gun barrel explodes due to being lodged with dirt (he was using it as a walking stick after being shot in the leg) right before he fired it.
  • Improbable Weapon User: McNally throws a chicken into the face of one of Ketcham's sentries.
  • Informed Ability: While holding McNally prisoner, Tuscarora claims to be a good knife thrower (threatening to kill him this way if necessary) but never gets a chance to prove this true.
  • It's Personal: Sums up McNally's determination to capture the traitor.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: Shasta is introduced reporting a murder committed by Hendricks and his men, only for the sheriff she reports it to tell her that it's out of his jurisdiction.
  • Leg Focus: Old Man Phillips makes notes of Shasta's legs, although they are covered at the time.
  • Last Kiss: They don't die, but Cardona asks Shasta for one while they're hiding from a pair of Hendricks men at one point.
  • Let's Split Up, Gang!: A (somewhat) justified example. McNally and his pursuit force have to split up as the Confederates they're chasing split up, and then when the Confederates reach a river and travel through the water to hide their tracks, to the point where McNally is alone, and easy to capture, once he finally finds them.
  • Man on Fire: Ketcham is briefly set on fire during a fight, and they don't put it out until he agrees to sign back all the deeds he's stolen.
  • Maybe Ever After: Cardona and Phillips are the ones who get the romantic interests, but McNally has a moment which could be taken this way with Amelita at the end as he comforts her for shooting Hendricks, although the two have no real interaction prior to that.
  • Men of Sherwood: Cardona has about thirty fellow Confederate guerrilla train robbers, although only Tuscarora and Bide get much dialogue or characterization, all of them are tough and resourceful men who survive the movie. Interestingly, they start out as the antagonists of the movie, but after the end of the war in the first quarter of the movie, they become friendlier to The Hero. Many of them show up to help right before the final shootout when the heroes initially seem badly outnumbered.
  • Mook Horror Show: While not always fatal, there's a few scenes where McNally and Cardona take out sentries for the villains this way, one by one, with Cardona once dropping a lasso over one man's neck and hanging him.
  • Mook Lieutenant: Bide to the Confederates, and Whitey and Deputy Riley to Hendricks and Ketcham.
  • Motor Mouth: Shasta has her moments of talking a lot. This is lampshaded after she provides a distraction for the others.
    Shasta: Well you certainly took long enough, I was running out of things to say.
    McNally: That, I can't believe.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: McNally gives Ketcham a brutal beating after capturing him and getting confirmation that he's the traitor.
  • No One Sees the Boss: Ketcham rarely ventures off his well-guarded ranch, leaving Hendricks to oversee his interests, and rule over the townspeople.
  • Noble Confederate Soldier: The Confederate soldiers are portrayed as brave, audacious, fine with taking orders from a half-Mexican officer, and willing to make peace with their former enemies after the war.
  • Nobody Here but Us Birds: Tuscarora uses birdcalls to alert Cardona to his presence a few times when stealth is required.
  • Old Soldier: McNally, at least while he's in the service. John Wayne was 63 at the time of the movie, and McNally is implied to have been in the army since before the war.
  • Only One Name: Old Man Phillips' given name is never mentioned.
  • Papa Wolf: Phillips father is one of Ketcham's last opponents, with only the threat of death to his son making him consider giving up, and the chance to rescue his son causing him to throw in with the heroes.
  • Prisoner Exchange: At the climax Cardona has been captured to trade for Ketcham. The two of them both walk across an empty space between buildings. Cardona dives into a stream at the half way point where Phillips is waiting with guns, removing him from the line of fire, while McNally then tells Hendricks how Ketcham signed over all of the deeds they'd stolen, getting him shot by his own men.
  • Prolonged Prologue: The train robbery and its aftermath take up at least a quarter of the movie.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Cardona and his men are portrayed as simply soldiers fighting for a cause (with none of his men showing any resentment about having a Mexican commander), and perform a Heel–Face Turn and are willing to cooperate with their former enemy after the war.
  • Reed Snorkel: Tuscarora Phillips uses one to try and escape from the Union soldiers after McNally tricks the Confederates into riding into a Union camp, as well as to sneak up on the bad guys in the climax.
  • Remember the New Guy? /What Happened to the Mouse?: Presumably for budgetary reasons, hardly any of the actors playing Hendricks and Ketcham's goons appear in more than one scene, causing a lot of instances of thugs disappearing after one scene, or a bunch of strangers fighting along with Hendricks in the final shootout.
  • Scars are Forever: Amelita notes that the scar Hendricks gives her will be there forever although she still looks good despite it.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: The surviving mocks do this at the end of the climax.
  • Shameful Strip: After fainting, Shasta is briefly irritated to find out that Cardona took off her dress, due to concerns that it was making it hard for her to breath.
  • Shout-Out: A wanted poster for Wayne's character from Hondo appears in the background of one scene.
  • Small-Town Tyrant: Ketcham, Sheriff Hendricks and their men have been forcibly taking all of the good land near Rio Lobo, having gotten started with the money Ketcham made selling the gold shipments.
  • Speak Ill of the Dead: Upon hearing that Shasta shot Whitey, Old Man Phillips declares that's the best news he's heard all year.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Cardona has a bit of this attitude about keeping Shasta out of harms way later in the movie.
  • Stay with Me Until I Die: Averted. McNally specifically apologizes that despite wanting to, he can't do this to Forysthe, who tells him he understands and to go chase down the train robbers.
  • Stranger Behind the Mask: While McNally finds Ketcham is indeed the traitor who sold out his gold shipments (having served in the Union Army under a different name), Ketcham wasn't one of the many Union soldiers to appear under McNally's command in the first act of the movie.
  • Southern-Fried Private: Sergeant Tuscarora Phillips has a southern twang, carries corn liquor in his canteen, and is a wily, quick-fisted fellow who wouldn't be out of place in a The Dukes of Hazzard adventure. Of course, he is a member of the Confederate Army.
  • Taking Over the Town: Hendricks, Ketcham, Whitey and their men did this to Rio Lobo prior to the start of the movie.
  • Train Job: The opening scene of the movie shows one in great detail. Cardona and his men eavesdrop on the telegraph to find out when the train will be coming. Then they grease the tracks to stop the engine. Knock out the engineer and brakeman, and shoot any of the Union soldiers in the baggage car (with the gold) who try to come out and fight. Then they detach the rest of the train from the engine, to go rolling down the tracks, while tossing a hornets nest into the car to force all of the Union guards to jump out (tossing in a torch to smoke out the hornets once all of them are gone). Several miles down the track, more of the Confederates have tied lots of ropes across the track, to trees, which are pulled out of their roots when the train hits home, serving as an anchor which stops the train. The confederates then split up several times. First they move the gold in a wagon (which they had filled with rocks on the way in so its tracks won't look deeper leaving) then split up several times while carrying the gold on horseback.
  • Trust Password: Cardona recounts details about his and Tuscarora's first battle to convince Old Man Phillips that he is who he says he is.
  • Undertaker: One of them arrives after Whitey and his companions are shot down, drawn by the gunshots before anyone even calls him.
  • Violently Protective Girlfriend: Shasta doesn't hesitate to help Cardona in the climax and Maria tries to stop Hendricks and his men from arresting Tuscarora on trumped up charges.
  • "Wanted!" Poster: When McNally visits his local sheriff's office, there are posters of Hondo, a character Wayne played 18 years earlier.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Cardona wears a bloody bandage (borrowed from one of his men) on his leg to pretend to be a Confederate straggler and lower McNally's guard to capture him.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Hendricks repeatedly hits Tuscarora's fiancée Maria and also slashes her friend Amelita's face for helping the heroes.
  • You Kill It, You Bought It: Hendricks murdered Rio Lobo's previous sheriff and declared that he had the job now.