“Rio Lobo” reeks of exhaustion. The final film in the lengthy and often illustrious career of director Howard Hawks, this western is a continuation of a pattern of laconic narrative drifting that has increasingly characterized the greater number of his films during the latter period of his filmmaking career, including his well regarded but insanely overrated “Rio Bravo” and his enjoyable but ultimately pointless safari ramble “Hatari!”.
Both of those films (perhaps- or not -coincidentally also scripted by Leigh Brackett who contributed to Hawks’ earlier, impossibly labyrinthine “The Big Sleep”), regardless of memorable individual sequences or even if charitably, viewed as an entertaining collective of spirited and energetic sequences fail to gel into a sound narrative whole with neither giving the impression of more than a valedictory assemblage of Hawks’ most familiar directorial signatures than of an actual structured dramatic arc. (One might easily enter the theater tardy at any point in these films without damage to appreciating the continued flow of events.) But it is the lack of passion- rather than merely the lack of equally absent energy -that is the film’s most alarming characteristic; the fundamental passion which drives the western genre in its higher level of accomplishment as elemental morality plays. Now, such dispassion is hardly unique to this film alone within the genre, in fact it is a fairly common condition within the morass of brainless copycat oaters which have proliferated the cinema since the silent days, but it is attention worthy when such a film is both a John Wayne vehicle and one directed by esteemed Auteurist icon Howard Hawks; a strange bird as cultural icon, being a studio director of almost invisible artistic ambitions but a generously employed sense of fine-tuned craftsmanship successfully employed in an impressive variety of film types including dramas, action films, screwball comedies (his output in this last is arguably unrivaled in defining the genre) but his western influence- certainly the apprentice to Ford’s sorcerer -has been wildly exaggerated and overpraised especially since his last three works in the genre are essentially variations of the same theme; an example of distressing creative anemia that would result, one would presume, in increasingly interesting offerings rather than just the opposite.
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