Friday, April 13, 2012

#606. Rio Bravo (1959)

Directed By: Howard Hawks

Starring: John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson

Tag line: "The fought back to back...No quarter given...No quarter asked...No way in...No way out...of Rio Bravo"

Trivia:  The last movie in which John Wayne wore the hat he had worn since Stagecoach

As I mentioned in my write-up of High Noon, director Howard Hawks was no fan of Fred Zinnemann’s award-winning western. Hawks decried High Noon as “phony”, and wondered why any self-respecting sheriff would scurry around town begging for help. 

Hawks turned High Noon over and over in his head, picking out the bits and pieces that annoyed him the most, and before long came up with a few ideas of how he would have handled the story. 

The result of all his second-guessing was Rio Bravo

John Chance (John Wayne), a Sheriff in Presidio County, Texas, has just arrested Joe Burdette (Claude Aikins) for the murder of an unarmed man, inciting the anger of Burdette’s brother, Nathan (John Russell), a wealthy and powerful landowner. To break Joe out of jail, Nathan Burdette hires a gang of outlaws and sends them riding into town fully-armed, thus putting Sheriff Chance in a difficult spot. 

You see, Chance must hold onto the prisoner for six days, at which time a U.S. Marshal will finally arrive to take him away. What's more, he has only two deputies to assist him; the usually-drunk Dude (Dean Martin) and a bad tempered old man they call Stumpy (Walter Brennan). Even with the addition of a young gunslinger named Colorado (Ricky Nelson), Chance knows he and his men have a tough six days ahead of them.

Rio Bravo boasts a number of thrilling gun battles, as well as a toe-tapping musical duet performed by Messrs. Nelson and Martin. But its the characters that make Rio Bravo such a great motion picture. A no-nonsense lawman, John Chance refuses to accept help from anyone unless it’s on his terms. It was a role tailor-made for John Wayne, and he’s terrific in the part. 

Yet as good as Wayne is, Rio Bravo belongs to Dean Martin. At the outset, Martin's Dude is the town drunk, the guy nobody pays attention to except to step over him on their way to the bar. With Chance's help, Dude gets back on his feet and becomes a sober, hard-working sidekick. When he and Chance chase the killer into a bar that's stacked high with Burdette’s men, it's Dude who takes control of the situation, to prove he can handle himself when things get dicey. Thanks to some sharp thinking and a quick draw, he doesn’t disappoint. If building strong western heroes was what Hawks set out to do, then he pulled it off in a big way. 

As for High Noon, I'm on record as being a fan of the film, and consider it a well-crafted morality tale. Now, I have another reason to like that movie: if it hadn’t been for High Noon, we wouldn’t have gotten Rio Bravo.

I’m glad Howard Hawks didn’t see things my way!


Robert M. Lindsey said...

My all-time favorite Western, and one of my all-time favorites.

DVD Infatuation said...

Robert: Thanks for stopping by, and for the comment.

I don't personally rank RIO BRAVO among my top-5 favorite westerns, but it's definitely high up there on the list.

Take care!

Anthony Lee Collins said...

The most hopeful thing I've read about The Avengers is that Roger Ebert compared it to Rio Bravo. I may need to see it after all, because that's high praise.

DVD Infatuation said...

Anthony: High praise indeed! Thanks for the comment.

Anonymous said...

Hey Dave, what are your top 5 fav westerns? Thinking of having our older sons watch the Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns.

DVD Infatuation said...

Kelley: Thanks for stopping by!

My top-5 Westerns would be:

Once Upon a Time in the West
The Wild Bunch
The Searchers
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Extended to top-10, I would also add:

Rio Bravo
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
Winchester '73
Ride the High Country

With hon. mentions to two recent films, the Coen's remake of True Grit and the Aussie western, The Proposition

Also, my 2nd favorite film of all-time is McCabe & Mrs. Miller, which is technically a western as well, but a very atypical one.

And I think letting your sons watch Leone's spaghetti westerns is a great idea! There's not a bad film in the bunch!

Thanks again for stopping by, and for the comment!