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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Rio Lobo (Blu-ray)
Rio Lobo (Blu-ray)
Paramount // G // May 31, 2011 // Region A
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted May 15, 2011 | E-mail the Author
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When John
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Wayne, screenwriter Leigh Brackett, and director Howard Hawks teamed up to make Rio Bravo, they stumbled upon a formula that worked remarkably well...so well, in fact, that they essentially remade the film again in 1966 as El Dorado and recycled it for a third and final time in 1970's Rio Lobo. An aging gunslinger and his mismatched sidekicks pit themselves against a gang that's dug its claws into a sleepy little town, barricade themselves inside a jail, and square off in one last, sprawling gunfight that builds to a literally explosive crescendo -- the broad strokes are all there, sure, but the spark that defined the first two movies is sorely lacking in Rio Lobo. This is a movie that's generally dismissed as Howard Hawks' worst and pointed to as proof how tired and formulaic the Western genre had become. That's not to say that Rio Lobo is bad, but it's the sort of movie I'd tune into on AMC during one of their John Wayne marathons and never be bothered to more than halfway pay attention. It's comfortable and familiar, and there's some appeal in that, although that's about as high as the praise can go for a Western this forgettably mediocre.

John Wayne stars as Colonel Cord McNally, and one of his duties during the Civil War is ensuring the safe transport of Union gold. No matter how many men McNally throws at the problem, the cash-starved Rebs always seem to find some way to make off with their shipments. These raids are executed with military precision and impressive resourcefulness; rather than leaning on gunplay and dynamite, Captain Pierre Cordona (Jorge Rivero) and the soldiers under his command pull off this latest heist with a bucket of grease, a hornet's nest, rope, and a few nearby trees. It's a successful robbery but one that carries a heavy cost: the death of one of McNally's most trusted men. The colonel takes it upon himself to track down the
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Confederate soldiers responsible. He's caught offguard and taken as their prisoner, and when the time comes, McNally is able to turn the tables. It ends on the best terms one could hope for, though. Cordona and his men proved to be worthy, respectful adversaries, and the theft of the gold was an act of war; McNally doesn't hold that against them, despite the toll that had to be paid. However, the only way the opposing forces could've known about the shipment would be from a traitor working against the Union, and that he cannot abide. McNally's hunt for the man responsible for this betrayal continues even after the war has ended, and once again it brings him back in touch with Cordona and one of the Confederate sergeants (Christopher Mitchum). Cordona brings news that one of the traitors has been spotted in Rio Lobo, a desert town overcome by graft and corruption. With Cordona and a grieving, vengeful, young woman (Jennifer O'Neill) by his side, McNally sets out to clean up Rio Lobo and avenge his friend's death once and for all.

There's disappointingly little that Rio Lobo gets right. Although John Wayne is still in top form and is able to shoulder much of the film himself, gone are the terrific ensembles that make Rio Bravo and El Dorado so engaging. Those
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first two movies co-starred Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson, James Caan, and Robert Mitchum; the best Rio Lobo can muster to fill out the leads are Jorge Rivero and Jennifer O'Neill. Rivero was a matinee idol south of the border but struggles with the English dialogue he's handed here. He's charming without a doubt but isn't all that engaging a presence on screen, and the chemistry of days past that The Duke shared with Dean Martin and Robert Mitchum is sorely lacking here. O'Neill suffers from much the same problem: pretty face, stilted acting. Her character, grieving snake-oil shiller Shasta Delaney, is written as brassy, but since O'Neill never really escapes into the part, it all just feels labored and awkward. At least at this point in O'Neill's career, she's a model, not an actress. Although Rio Lobo opens with that incredible train hijacking, the first half of the film otherwise swirls around these characters palling around together. With O'Neill, Rivero, and a good bit of the rest of the supporting cast failing to amount to much more than dead air, quite a bit of Rio Lobo is slow and uninvolving. This turns around when seasoned hand Jack Elam turns up, infusing the movie with some much needed energy as he helps McNally clean house. Elam and Wayne not only put in the best performances but seem to get all the wittiest dialogue too. It's a shame that pairing doesn't last longer than it does.

Don't get me wrong, though: I don't dislike Rio Lobo. The shootouts are intense, the opening train heist is imaginative and brilliantly executed, John Wayne is as commanding and compelling a presence as ever, and Jack Elam rushes in to rescue the movie when it most desperately needs it. It's just that everything else about Rio Lobo is flat and lifeless. Howard Hawks largely seems to be going through the motions in what would prove to be his last film as a director, and the supporting cast he's assembled lacks the talent to elevate such uninspired material. Rio Lobo does enough right to be entirely watchable, but it's disappointing that a career as storied as Hawks would end on such a forgettable note. Rio Lobo isn't the sort of movie I rant or rave about; I just shrug and move on. Rent It.

After cringing at the overly processed screenshots of True Grit that were making the rounds a few months back, I braced myself, expecting the worst from Rio Lobo. On the upside, it turns out that Paramount hasn't heaped on excessive digital noise reduction this time around. There's no sign of any heavy filtering, artificial sharpening, or any awkward processing at all, really. On the other hand, I wouldn't be surprised if this Blu-ray disc is minted from the same master used for Rio Lobo's DVD release all the way back in 2003.

Clarity and detail rarely impress. Though film grain is certainly present, the texture isn't all that distinct from a normal viewing distance...a far cry from the best transfers of films from this era. Speckling is too light to be intrusive but still more abundant than I'd expect. Admittedly, there aren't any glaring technical hiccups to speak of, and its colors seem natural and well-balanced, but I just don't get the sense that much effort went into this Blu-ray release -- as if someone at Paramount dusted off whatever aging master was on the shelf and dumped it onto this shiny, five-inch disc. That's not to say that Rio Lobo looks terrible in high definition, but much like the film itself, this presentation is just undistinguished and routine.

Rio Lobo is encoded with VC-1 -- somewhat of a surprise, since it seems as if Paramount dropped that codec in favor of AVC quite a while ago -- and it spans both layers of this BD-50 disc. The film is unmatted on Blu-ray, presented at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1.

Rio Lobo features two
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lossless soundtracks: one DTS-HD Master Audio track in stereo and the other in 24-bit, 5.1 surround sound. As remixes go, this one's fairly solid. There's a greater heft to the low-end than I'd normally expect from a film of this vintage: the low-frequency growl of the train, cracks of gunfire, and a colossal explosion in its final moments. There are a few scattered moments where the bass sounds artificially boosted, but it otherwise feels natural enough. The use of the rear channels is respectful to the film's original monaural intentions, boasting a rich sense of atmosphere while generally shying away from forced, gimmicky surround effects. Dialogue sounds appropriately dated and is generally rendered well. I'm really impressed by how clean and clear some of the effects are, particularly the jangling spurs that sound as if they could've been recorded last week. Jerry Goldsmith's score also sounds incredible, roaring with ferocity when appropriate and boasting some tremendous clarity, especially the strumming of that acoustic guitar. Far more impressive than anything I would walked in expecting to hear.

Also included are monaural dubs in Spanish (both Latin American and Castilian), French, and German. The sprawling list of subtitles includes streams in English (SDH), Spanish (Latin American and Castilian), German, French, Danish, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish, and Finnish.

Nothing -- not even a trailer.

The Final Word
Rio Lobo is salvaged somewhat thanks to terrific turns by John Wayne and Jack Elam, its spectacular opening train robbery, and a few first-rate shootouts, but everything in between is tired and routine. It's disappointing that in his last film, a legendary director like Howard Hawks would be content to simply go through the motions like this. It doesn't help that the supporting cast is so hopelessly out of their depth and can't muster the same spark that keep Rio Bravo and El Dorado so much more endlessly watchable. Rio Lobo is the sort of movie that'd play nicely as part of a lazy Sunday marathon of Westerns, but it's too slow, too uninvolving, and too forgettable to stand up all that well on its own. Its release on Blu-ray is every bit as lackluster, dragged down by an uninspired presentation and a complete lack of extras. Completists might find this worth fishing out of a bargain bin at some point down the road, but till then, Rent It.
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