John Wayne’s Co-Star Talked Working on a Duke Classic Without a Script

by Clayton Edwards

Filmmaking is a long and complicated process. Much of that process remains a mystery to those who aren’t directly involved in it. However, most people know that every movie starts with a script. In fact, many people will tell you that a good script is the cornerstone of a good movie. Most people also know that John Wayne did things his own way. So, it’s no big surprise that the Duke worked on one film without a script.

That movie was Rio Lobo. The story takes place after the end of the Civil War. John Wayne’s character, Cord McNally, was a Colonel in the Union Army. With the war behind him, he is free to embark on a revenge plot. Two traitors caused McNally’s unit to lose a battle. Additionally, McNally lost s close friend in the battle. It’s an all-around great film. In 2019, the Duke’s co-star Chris Mitchum revealed that they didn’t really use a script on Rio Lobo. In fact, he never received one.

Mitchum opened up about his time on Rio Lobo on A Word on Westerns. At the time, he was talking about working with John Wayne and the legendary director Howard Hawks. Rio Lobo was Hawks’ final feature film.

Chris Mitchum on Working Alongside John Wayne With No Script

Looking back on the movie, Mitchum said, “That was the film that turned me from acting for a better paycheck and being an actor because I loved it.” He went on to praise Hawks’ directing, calling him “absolutely wonderful.”

However, the studio wasn’t happy with how Hawks was making the film with John Wayne. “The studio was going crazy,” Mitchum recalled. They were down in Mexico working on a scene for the film and the studio sent reps to the set. “Because they didn’t have a script.” In fact, he said that he never read a script for the movie. He told Howard Hawks about it and the director loaned Mitchum his copy. However, he insisted that he needed it back the following day.

Chris Mitchum said that they would come to the set in the morning and someone would hand them the pages they would be working from that day. However, they didn’t stick to those pages. Sometimes, Hawks would change the dialogue on the fly. Other times, John Wayne would suggest repositioning actors in a scene. “We’d do this collaborative thing and rewrite the dialogue.”

Meanwhile, a secretary sat on set taking notes in shorthand. After they finished changing the scene to their liking and got a good take, the secretary would go type up the new pages of the script.

Overall, Mitchum said that working with John Wayne and Howard Hawks on Rio Lobo, “Was an amazing experience.”