Rio Lobo (1977)


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

The film was shot in Technicolor with a running time of 114 minutes. The musical score was composed by Jerry Goldsmith and the movie was filmed at Cuernavaca in the Mexican state of Morelos and at Tucson, Arizona.


During the final days of the American Civil War, the Union army payroll train is hijacked by Confederates led by Captain Pierre Cordona and Sergeant Tuscarora Phillips. Their scheme suggests that the Confederates must have gotten detailed inside information about the transport. Colonel Cord McNally’s close friend, Lieutenant Ned Forsythe, is fatally injured in the raid, and during the pursuit McNally’s squad is spread thinner and thinner until he is left on his own. After Cordona and his men capture him, McNally tricks them by leading them into a Union camp and raising the alarm. Cordona and Tuscarora are captured, but will not reveal to McNally the identity of the traitor who sold them the information about the train.

Despite this development, the three men gain a mutual respect for each other, and after the war ends, McNally visits Cordona and Phillips as they are being released. He asks them once more about the traitors, but all they can provide is a physical description. McNally then tells Cordona and Tuscarora that if they should come across these men again, to contact him through a friend of his, Pat Cronin, who is the sheriff of Blackthorne in Texas.

Sometime later, McNally is contacted by Pat on instructions from Cordona, who is staying at the local hotel. When he arrives in Blackthorne, he meets a young woman, Shasta Delaney, who has come to report the murder of her employer by a deputy of Rio Lobo’s sheriff, “Blue Tom” Hendricks. Shortly afterwards a posse from Rio Lobo arrives and wants to take Delaney away. Delaney identifies their leader, “Whitey” Carter, as the murderer she was referring to. When one of the posse aims a gun at Cronin, Delaney shoots Whitey from under the table, resulting in a shoot-out in which McNally, Cronin and Cordona finish off the posse.

Cordona, who identifies Whitey as one of the traitors McNally is looking for, tells him that Tuscarora had contacted him and told him that Phillips’ father and other ranchers are being bullied by a man named Ketcham, who installed Hendricks as his sheriff after he killed the previous incumbent. McNally, Cordona, and Delaney go to Rio Lobo, where they find the people living in terror of Hendricks and his men. Hendricks has Tuscarora arrested on trumped-up charges, so McNally’s group goes to get help from Tuscarora’s father, Old Man Philips. McNally, Cordona, and Philips sneak into Ketcham’s ranch and take him as a hostage, and McNally discovers that Ketcham is really Union Sergeant Major Ike Gorman, the second traitor he was searching for.

McNally forces Ketcham to sign the title deeds of the ranches back to their rightful owners, then the men retreat to Rio Lobo, where they order Hendricks and his men to vacate the town jail. They take over the building for cover, freeing Tuscarora, while Cordona goes for the cavalry. Meanwhile, Tuscarora’s girlfriend Maria Carmen and her friend, Amelita, lend assistance. For that, Hendricks slashes Amelita’s face, and Amelita swears to McNally that she will kill Hendricks.

Ketcham’s men capture Cordona and offer to trade him for Ketcham. In the meantime, several ranchers turn up to help, knowing that, if McNally fails, the town will have gained nothing from the returned deeds. During the prisoner exchange, Cordona manages to give his captors the slip. McNally yells out that Ketcham is now bankrupt, having signed the deeds back, so the furious sheriff guns Ketcham down, and in turn McNally shoots Hendricks in the leg. McNally then gets shot in his own leg and is dragged back into the cantina where his group is entrenched.

After a failed attempt to blow up the cantina, the remaining bandits are outflanked by the rest of the townspeople, who have rallied to help. Hendrick’s men realize that all is lost, and they flee. Hendricks shoots at them, but he has been using his rifle as a crutch and, with its muzzle clogged with dust, it explodes in his face. As he stumbles to his horse, Amelita guns him down, thus keeping her promise and ridding the town of its final menace.


  • John Wayne as Colonel Cord McNally.
  • Jorge Rivero as Captain Pierre Cordona aka “Frenchy”.
  • Jennifer O’Neill as Shasta Delaney.
  • Christopher Mitchum as Sergeant Tuscarora Phillips.
  • Jack Elam as Phillips.
  • Victor French as Ike Gorman/Ketcham.
  • Susana Dosamantes as María Carmen.
  • Sherry Lansing as Amelita.
  • David Huddleston as Doctor Ivor Jones – Dentist.
  • Mike Henry as Rio Lobo Sheriff “Blue Tom” Hendricks.
  • Bill Williams as Blackthorne Sheriff Pat Cronin.
  • Jim Davis as Rio Lobo Deputy.
  • Robert Donner as Deputy Whitey Carter.
  • Hank Worden as Hank – Hotel Manager.
  • Peter Jason as Lieutenant Ned Forsythe.
  • Edward Faulkner as Lieutenant Harris.
  • Chuck Courtney as Chuck.
  • George Plimpton as 4th Gunman.
  • Dean Smith as Bide.


The film was meant to be shot in Durango, Mexico on a budget of $5 million. However shooting on the movie Lawman took up facilities there so Hawks and Cinema Centre had to spend an extra $1 million to allow shooting at Old Tucson Studios, and near Los Angeles.

Hawks was injured while filming the railway scene, requiring four stitches. Hawks said he had to fight Cinema Centre to cast Chris Mitchum in the movie.

The script was rewritten throughout production.


Upon release, the film received mostly negative reviews

Box Office

The film made US$4.25 million in rentals, twentieth among the highest money-making pictures of the year, but it grossed $2 million less than its $6 million budget, making it a box-office bomb.


The music for Rio Lobo was composed by Jerry Goldsmith. The soundtrack album was released in Belgium in 2001 on Prometheus Records.


  • It was the third Howard Hawks film varying 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.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s): Howard Hawks.
  • Producer(s): Howard Hawks.
  • Writer(s): Leigh Brackett and Burton Wohl.
  • Music: Jerry Goldsmith.
  • Cinematography: William H. Clothier.
  • Editor(s): John Woodcock.
  • Production: Batjac Productions, Cinema Centre Films, and Malabar.
  • Distributor(s): National General Pictures.
  • Release Date: 17 December 1970.
  • Running Time: 114 minutes.
  • Rating: G.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.

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