Blu-ray Review: John Wayne Double Feature: Rio Lobo & Big Jake

John Wayne might not have invented the Western or only made Westerns, but his name and face are inseparable from the genre. One of his earliest roles was an extra in a Tom Mix silent film. He established himself as a star in John Ford’s Stagecoach in 1939. For decades he rode high in the box office. He also dominated weekend afternoon movies on TV. For quite a long time, viewers had to choose between baseball and John Wayne riding the range. And if dad held the remote control, it was all about the Duke and not Nolan Ryan. John Wayne Double Feature: Rio Lobo & Big Jake are two films that were made at the end of his life when his Western characters took on a sense of mortality and age in the post-True Grit era.

Rio Lobo (1970 – 114 minutes) unites Wayne with legendary director Howard Hawks (Bringing Up Baby) one last time. This was also the third time the duo would remake a variation of the same script. First they did it as Rio Bravo (1959) with Dean Martin. A few years later, they’d mix up the formula again for El Dorado (1966) with Robert Mitchum. The story for all three films reflected on an aging lawman having to deal with an outlaw in his town. The twist this time is the Wayne is a former Union commander who has his orders tapped by the confederates so they can rob a payroll train. After the war, he encounters these rebel troops and wants to know who wants the rat that gave the info about the payroll. Like the previous two movies, Wayne puts together a trio to enter a lawless world and get his revenge. It’s not a step-by-step recreation of the previous two films although Robert Mitchum’s son Chris is part of the heavies.

Big Jake (1971 – 110 minutes) marked the final film by director George Sherman. His career was marked by doing Westerns for Gene Autry, Republic Pictures and finally lots of TV shows including Rawhide. Big Jake brings together John Wayne with Richard Boone (Have Gun Will Travel). Big Jake (Wayne) has to come out to the family ranch after they’ve been attacked by a gang let by Boone. They kidnap Little Jake (Wayne’s son Ethan Wayne). His ex-wife wants to pay a ransom, but he doesn’t want to just give into Boone’s demands. It’s a messy family drama that also features John’s son Patrick Wayne as his movie son. Wayne’s wife would be played by Maureen O’Hara (The Quiet Man) in their last on screen pairing. The film isn’t just about rescue, but about rebuilding a family bond under extreme conditions.

Rio Lobo and Big Jake have Wayne playing men who are settling scores, burnishing their legacy and ultimately forming new bonds with old friends. These are both the type of films dad would have on the TV set while taking his post-supervising the kids mowing the lawn chore. In a sense, they are best watched when stretched out on the sofa in the family room. Wayne delivers what you expect. He’s the toughest guy on the screen and he owns every frame. Neither Richard Boone or Robert Mitchum’s kid can block the sun from shining on his six-shooter.

The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic for Rio Lobo & 2.35:1 anamorphic for Big Jake. The transfers bring out the dusty nature of the Wild West and a touch of sweat on John Wayne. The audio is English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 & 2.0 for both movies. They sound fine as Wayne shows up to be John Wayne. There are also mono dubs in Spanish, German and French. The subtitles are English SDH, French, German, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish. You can invite a NATO council over to watch the film.

No bonus features.

CBS DVD presents John Wayne Double Feature: Rio Lobo & Big Jake. Directed by: Howard Hawks & George Sherman. Screenplay by: Leigh Brackett and Burton Wohl & Harry Julian Fink and R. M. Fink. Starring: John Wayne, Richard Boone, Patrick Wayne, Victor French & Maureen O’Hara. Rated: G & PG-13. Released: August 8, 2017.

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