Directed by Howard Hawks
Cast: John Wayne as Col. Cord McNally
Jorge Rivero as Capt. Pierre Cordona
Jennifer O'Neill as Shasta Delaney
Jack Elam as Phillips
Victor French as Ketcham
Susana Dosamantes as Maria Carmen
Chris Mitchum as Tuscarora
Mike Henry as Sheriff Tom Hendricks
David Huddleston as Dr. Jones
Bill Williams as Sheriff Pat Cronin
Edward Faulkner as Lieutenant Harris
During the Civil War, Union Col. Cord McNally’s second in command is killed when a group of Confederate soldiers led by Capt. Pierre Cordona and Sgt. Tuscarora Phillips highjack a train carrying gold for the Union payroll. Cord leads troops to recover the gold and apprehend the men behind the robbery, discovering that a Union traitor was selling information to the Confederates during the way. Pierre and Tuscarora are imprisoned for the rest of the war.
Cord visits the prison that Pierre and Tuscarora are being held in when they are released after the war. Cord asks them for the names of the Union traitors that sold them their information. Pierre responds that they only saw the men from afar, but provides the vague description that he can remember. The two Confederates are curious about Cord’s motives, noting that they were the soldiers that took action against his men, wondering why he should be concerned with how they got their intel. Cord responds that the men were following orders in wartime, which he can respect. However, the Union soldiers that sold the information are traitors that must be brought to justice. His question answered, Pierre informs Cord that they are travelling to Pierre’s home town of Rio Lobo, Texas. Cord requests that if they run across the traitors in their travels, to let him know through his contact, Sheriff Pat Cronin in Blackthorne, Texas.
Some time later, Cord receives word from Pat that Pierre has asked him to reach Cord and that Cord should come right away. Cord arrives in Blackthorne, and is waiting for Pierre to meet with him when a woman rides in from Rio Lobo, introducing herself as Shasta Delaney, and informs the sheriff that there has been a murder in Rio Lobo. Pat lets Shasta know that he cannot do anything as Rio Lobo is not in his jurisdiction. Later, a posse lead by Whitey arrives from Rio Lobo to apprehend Shasta and return her to Rio Lobo. During the heated exchange, Shasta notices a gun being trained on Pat. Realizing that these men intend to take her back no matter what, she fires first, killing Whitey. Pat, Cord and Pierre finish off the rest of the posse. Pierre informs Cord that Whitey was one of the traitors that Cord has been hunting, and that Tuscarora is in Rio Lobo helping his father fend off a man named Ketchum, who installed a man named “Blue” Tom Hendricks as Sherriff after Hendricks murdered the man that previously held the office.
Cord, Pierre and Shasta ride to Rio Lobo and find that the town has been taken over by outlaws, installing themselves as the authorities and terrorizing the townspeople. Shortly after they arrive Tuscarora is arrested on false charges by Hendricks. The three go to Tuscarora’s father’s ranch and meet Tuscarora’s father, Old Man Philips. Cord, Phillips and Pierre sneak onto Ketchum’s ranch and Cord finds information that reveals that Ketchum is really the other traitor Cord is hunting, Ike Gorman. Cord captures Gorman and forces him to sign over all the land he has stolen from the townspeople. They take Gorman back to the town jail to free Tuscarora, and Pierre rides out of Rio Lobo to bring back help.
Gorman’s henchmen capture Pierre, however, and Hendricks has arrived in town to take it back by force. Hendricks offers a prisoner exchange, Pierre for Gorman. However, word has spread to the townspeople and farmers and they offer to help Cord, because if he fails, they will not have farms or homes to return to. Cord also receives assistance from Tuscarora’s girlfriend, Maria, and her friend Amelita. Amelita’s face was scarred by Hendricks, and she has vowed to kill him in revenge.
During the prisoner exchange, Cord shouts to Hendricks that Gorman is now bankrupt, after signing over the land back to the ranchers. Infuriated, Hendricks turns to Gorman and shoots him dead. In the ensuing gunfight both Hendricks and Cord are shot in the leg, and Cord’s group retreats to the saloon. As Hendricks and his men try to get to Cord, the farmers and ranchers arrive to reinforce Cord, and the outlaws, now realizing they are significantly outnumbered, flee. Hendricks tries to make one final stand, but his rifle is clogged because he has been using it as a crutch, and it blows up in his face. Hendricks, wounded and beaten, tries to escape, but he is stopped with a gunshot from Amelita, who makes good on her revenge.
Rio Lobo is the last of a trilogy of movies by director Howard Hawks, revisiting the theme of a sheriff defending his town from outlaws. The other two are Rio Bravo (1959) and Eldorado (1967).
Rio Lobo is also Howard Hawks’ final movie.
There is a wanted poster for Hondo Lane in Sherriff Pat Cronin’s office. Hondo Lane was the character John Wayne played in the movie Hondo (1953).
This was the last appearance of Sherry Lansing, who went on to become president of Paramount studios.
Writer George Plimpton had a minor role in the film while he was researching the film industry. He reported in a TV documentary that John Wayne kept teasing him about his name, calling him Pimpelton.
Robert Mitchum was offered to reprise his role from El Dorado , but he refused because he did not like the script.
During filming, John Wayne attended the Academy Awards to receive his Oscar for " True Grit " from Barbara Streisand. When he returned to the set, everyone was sporting an eye patch, including his horse!
John Wayne was very ill fighting cancer during the filming, and needed help getting on and off his horse.