Rio Conchos (1964) – By Duane L. Martin

Ex Confederate soldier Major James Lassiter’s (Richard Boone) wife and child were tortured and killed by Apaches, and for the last year he’s been on a quest for revenge, killing every Apache he can get his hands on. After killing an Apache burial party, he’s tracked by two Union soldiers, Captain Haven (Stuart Whitman), and Sgt. Franklyn (Jim Brown) who want to know where he got the repeating rifle he used to kill them. The Captain had been in charge of a convoy of wagons hauling the rifles when they got hijacked, and now he’s on a mission to find out what happened to them and get them back before they fall into the wrong hands. Needless to say, the angry and alcoholic Lassiter is less than cooperative.

Lassiter is held at the Union army camp until he sobers up and decides to be a little more cooperative. His cell mate just happens to be Juan Luis Rodriguez (Anthony Franciosa), a womanizer, con man and all around slick talker that he knew from the past. Rodriguez was about to be hanged when Lassiter decided he had had enough and asked to speak to Colonel Wagner (Warner Anderson). He told him that he bought the rifle from a man named Pardee, but that he didn’t know where to find him. The colonel offers Lassiter a choice. Rot in a cell, or help them to find Pardee and the rifles before they fall into Apache hands. Given this choice, Lassiter decides to help them, but when he’s told that he’ll be setting out with Captain Haven and Seargeant Franklin, Lassiter demands that he be allowed to take his own man, Rodriguez, along as well just to cover his back and make sure he doesn’t get shot once they’ve found the rifles. So the four set out with a wagon load of gun powder to be used as bait to draw out those who stole the rifles.

Along the way, the four are attacked repeatedly by Apaches, and they capture an Apache girl who initially only views them with hatred and wants them to die the most horrible deaths possible. Through Rodriguez, who speaks Apache, she tells them that there will be a big trade in three days time, at which point the Apaches will get the rifles and they’ll all die. They keep her alive and take her along so they can keep trying to get out of her the location of the trade. Did they get it? Did they stop the trade, or did the Apaches get the rifles and cause mass bloodshed? You’ll have to watch the film to find out.

Rio Conchos has been released on a new double feature Wild West Collection DVD from Shout Factory. This film is a western in the truest sense of the word. It’s depictions of the harsh realities of the time are realistic in their depiction of the animosity that existed between the Apaches and the white man. Richard Boone’s character was particularly sympathetic. All he had loved in the world had been torn from him in the most horrific way possible, and all he wanted was revenge. You could really feel his pain and his loss. Stuart Whitman’s Captain Haven character was a bit double sided. He had a singular focus, and that was to get the rifles back. Over the course of the film however, it seemed that he became more sympathetic to Lassiter, and after they found a woman tortured to near death, her baby injured and her house burned, even the girl, who was at first full of hatred, saw the viciousness that her people were capable of.

Tony Franciosa’s character, Rodriguez, was actually a fun character. He was a smooth talking devil and really likeable. You never really knew who’s side he was on, but over the course of the film, you come to realize that while he’s helping out on the mission, he’s really just on his own side. It’s a rather complex character and Franciosa played it brilliantly. Jim Brown’s character however really didn’t have a whole lot to do. His dialog was pretty minimal, and mostly he was just along for the ride. It’s a shame really. It would have been nice to have seen that character’s part in the film beefed up a little. This was Jim Brown’s first movie, and for someone making the transition from professional football player to big screen film actor, he actually did really well, and had a long and productive television and film career from that point on.

Everything about this film felt authentic. It didn’t feel like one of those somewhat stylized Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns, it just felt…authentic. You feel like you’re watching a scene out of history with this film, even though it’s a dramatic story. Authenticity is really what makes this film so incredible. For example, horses were taken down. In most westerns, they only shoot the riders, which is unrealistic. In this one, you see horses go down as well. In the scene where they found the tortured woman and her baby in the burned out house, the rest go outside while Lassiter shoots her to put her out of her misery rather than them trying to clean her up and nurse her back to health, which again, is something you don’t normally see in your average western. The baby ends up dying as well. Harsh? Yes, but it was a harsh world back then, and this film does a great job in depicting the realities of the time.

I showed this film to my 82 year old father, who grew up on ranches and spent much of his early to mid-life around rodeos. To this day he loves watching westerns and reading western novels, etc…, and yet, whenever I show him movies I like, the most I can ever get out of him is, "It was pretty good". I showed him this one and he loved it. So if Rio Conchos gets his stamp of approval, you know it’s good.

There’s no special features with this film other than the trailer, but it’s been mastered in a 2:35:1 anamorphic widescreen and looks great. It’s yet another quality release from Shout Factory, who have consistently impressed me with the quality of their releases. The other film on the disc is called, Take a Hard Ride, with Jim Brown, Fred Williamson and Lee Van Cleef, also reviewed in this issue.

If you like great westerns, do yourself a favor and pick up this release. Both films are great, though this one is definitely the stand out of the two.

If you’d like to find out more about this release, or to pick up a copy for yourself, you can check out it’s listing on the Shout Factory website here.