Howard Hawks in his late De Kooning phase. (Rio Bravo is his Gotham News, this is a tranquil Untitled.) The first movement re-imagines a Wild Bunch bit as a Buster Keaton routine, calibrated to Yakima Canutt’s stuntwork: gold shipment in Union train, Confederate saboteurs, grease on rail tracks, hornets’ nest in caboose. The Civil War setting allows the director’s gloved comment on Vietnam-era domestic turmoil, hopeful of a divided nation again coming together -- the Yankee colonel (John Wayne) and the Southern prisoners (Jorge Rivero, Christopher Mitchum) go home amicably, "there’s no bad feelings between us, the war’s over." Fighting for your side is just doing your job, selling information is a cardinal sin; Wayne’s hunt for two Union turncoats takes him from Blackthorne, Texas, to Rio Lobo, a town ruled by a landowner (Victor French) in cahoots with the corrupt lawman (Mike Henry). Jennifer O’Neill is the widow of a snake-oil merchant, Sherry Lansing is seen first as a synthetic ingénue with arms folded over a topless torso and last as a vengeful banshee sporting a Frankenstein slash across her cheek. A film of mementos, of deliberately pale shadows: Peter Jason broken-necked on the grass (Only Angels Have Wings), Rivero holding a cup of coffee in a torch-lit cave (Red River), O’Neill shooting a pistol from under a saloon table (El Dorado). There’s nothing to be done with these kids, Hawks instead continues to focus on the gathering of old men in front of and behind the camera, matching Wayne’s mellowness with Jack Elam’s firing-on-all-cylinders rendition of trigger-happy crabbiness. Barricaded jails and dynamite shootouts duly follow, but the most personal moments find the leathery geezers gazing at the new decade, contemplating gnarly hooch and soft juveniles alike ("Boy, that stuff is not for the young!"). With Susana Dosamantes, David Huddleston, Bill Williams, Dean Smith, Robert Donner, and George Plimpton.
--- Fernando F. Croce